Why a messy office at work could be hurting your career

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Whether it’s a cubicle or an office, your workspace tells others more about you than you think.

If your workspace has stacks of unorganized paper, objects flung on the floor, empty water bottles or dirty coffee mugs — or if it’s just a general place of disarray — you’re sending messages to coworkers and colleagues that aren’t positive. 

Two experts weighed in as to why you should make keeping your office organized a priority for your career and your reputation.

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It’s not only for your own productivity, but for your professional image.

Your office environment matters

An organized office not only gives you more space to be productive, it sends the message you care about your surroundings, said Diane Gottsman an etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas based in San Antonio, Texas. 

“Much like your clothes say a great deal about how you take care of yourself and is an indicator of self-esteem, your office is an extension of your personality and may send the message that you are unable to organize an office or a life,” she said. 

In addition, some colleagues may think that your messy office could spill over to managing your job or your work flow.

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“They may think that if you can’t organize your space, you may have trouble organizing and prioritizing projects,” Gottsman told Fox News Digital. 

Another issue at hand is that a messy desk could convey you’re extremely busy and have to prioritize your time to get an important project finished on a deadline, she suggested. 

This also can affect your work image. 

Attitude is part of the issue

Some employees may feel that their workspace is their domain and as long as they get their job done, it’s nobody’s business whether the area is tidy or not. 

business meeting

If asked about why the workspace is messy, how you answer tells coworkers about your personality. 

So if your mindset is, “I know it’s messy, but it’s my method and I know where everything is,” that could be a sign of smugness and not having regard for office policy or corporate culture.

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“That smug answer comes across as lazy or dismissive,” Gottsman told Fox News Digital. 

“It says you don’t care about other people’s comfort level. It also encourages others to follow your lead, which could mean an entire office is full of clutter and mess.”

Are there obligations to keep a workspace in order?

A clean office is a non-negotiable, said Gottsman.  

“Yes, an employee has a responsibility to keep their space orderly and clean because they are representing their company and people make judgments based on what they see,” she emphasized. 

“A client who entrusts the employee to take care of their business wants to know the employee pays attention to details.”

How can a manager approach a messy employee?

Gottsman said a staff meeting is a good opportunity to let employees know about expectations. 

“Every office is different, and every boss has a different tolerance level, so it’s important to communicate the expectations,” she said. 

Empty Office

But general expectations could include these suggestions to staff: “Please make sure all folders are removed from your desk, coffee cups are taken to the kitchen and washed, and your overhead light is turned off before leaving each day.”

If your boss confronts you about a messy desk, what do you do?

It’s important for employees to understand that their office represents the company, particularly if clients visit. 

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“From a managerial and company perspective, having employees maintain a level of neatness will be particularly important when outsiders are exposed to the office, conveying a standard of professionalism, and can also help employees feel more invested in their workplace,” said Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and executive performance coach with practices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

“If the manager expects you to be neater, that’s a small ask and an effort should be made to tidy up.” 

He is the author of the book, “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”

So, if you’re confronted by your manager about your messiness, be open to change, Alpert said. 

messy desk

“Keep in mind, the physical workplace is not yours and the space should be respected,” he continued.

“If the manager expects you to be neater, that’s a small ask and an effort should be made to tidy up.” 

Anything short of that could potentially be used against you, especially if it affects others. 

“At the end of the day, consider what’s more important: job security or maintaining your usual standard of tidiness vs. messiness,” Alpert said.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle.

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