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Do you have to work in a cluttered office and suffer the untidiness of a colleague, or worse, your manager?

A friend recently spoke to me about her the rage and sense of injustice she feels every time she walks into her office. She works in an open-plan one, and though she has her own desk, she constantly finds it invaded by clutter because her manager uses it as a general dumping ground for his stuff. I’m not going into the details of her situation here, but it got me thinking, and reading, about how common this problem is. It also reminded me of something so perhaps I should declare an interest.

Some years ago my company at the time, Lifeboat Training, was contracted to a public sector organisation. This meant regular visits to some rambling offices and on most of these occasions I walked past one particular glass-fronted cube that I always noticed because it looked as if a bomb had hit it. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that this was not an abandoned storeroom, but someone’s functioning office. I immediately made a rather uncharitable and judgmental assessment of the sort of person who must work in a space like that, filed it away tidily in my mind, and got on with my business. It was about a year later when my regular contact in the organisation told me at one of our review meetings that she would like to introduce me to her manager who I’ll call Gus, and Yes, you’ve guessed it…

When we crowded into Gus’s office it took much huffing and puffing on his part to clear some space before we could sit down, and when we did we were treated to a description of the pressure he was under and some of the problems he was facing. Even if he hadn’t told me so I could see that he was a busy man and within a very short time I was wondering if the apparent disorganisation of his office – we had to speak to each other across a table piled with folders, documents and even old newspapers – was a reflection of an equally cluttered mind.

Is there a link?

I know we are in the realms of pop psychology here, and I’m not sure that untidiness necessarily means disorganised. If you have ever complained to a teenager about the state of their room you’ll know a standard response is “I know where everything is.” But for me, and it appears for many others, the untidiness of a cluttered office is totally unacceptable. Worse, it damages relationships, performance and morale. There have been some surveys on this and a quick sample shows that:

  • 20 percent of employees are ready to quit because of untidy or cluttered offices
  • A survey of 500 staff in retail firms showed that most believe that trying to work in a “state of disorder” hits their productivity
  • One in five of those polled by Lloyds TSB said working in a cluttered office puts a strain on their personal life
  • More than half said the problem leaves them depressed and demotivated.

In addition to this, many offices these days can be seen by visitors or even members of the public and at least one company I know had to take action because they were concerned for their image. A cluttered office may have consequences that go beyond the people immediately involved. If I put my ‘Difficult People’ hat on I’m also reminded of the old-fashioned idea that managers should lead by example, which made the examples above doubly offensive, and that we live and work in an increasingly image-conscious society where we are judged on appearance as well as performance.

Cluttered Office clean up

I am not talking about the natural daily detritus of work, and as a writer, I know about the piles of books and documents that have to remain accessible and in view during any project. There is a difference between ‘work in progress’, and a mess. The clutter in my examples above was the result of months of neglect, not a few days hard work. By the way, if you’d like to see how other people who work (mostly) from home arrange their workspace take a look at From your desks… One of the rules of this offbeat blog is that contributors must not tidy up before taking the pictures they send in. Oh yeah? I may even contribute my own picture one of these days.

Sources

Most of the statistics come from a widely quoted but elusive piece of research by Lloyds TSB, and the links below.

The Inc. blog: The Real Consequences

Huffington Post: Is Your Messy Desk a Sign of a Cluttered Mind?

For zen see Mr Yen’s desk at: From your desks…

Office Etiquette for Open Plan Working

 

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