SURVEY SAYS: Messy Workstations

We covered a survey that found more than half of senior managers find the most distracting or annoying aspect of employee workspaces to be sloppiness or disorganization.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Is your workstation messy, and has anyone ever said anything to you about it?”

Only 16.7% of responding readers said their workstations are messy: however, 27.8% said they are somewhat messy and 18.5% said they are messy sometimes. Thirty-seven percent reported their workstations are not messy.

Asked if their boss or a co-worker made a comment about how their workstation looks, 31.5% of respondents said yes, while 68.5% said no.

I also asked readers if they have seen inappropriate or offensive things in a co-worker’s workstation. More than three-quarters (77.8%) reported they have not, and 22.2% reported they have.

In verbatim comments, some readers said it doesn’t matter if a workstation is messy as long as the employee is productive, but others said a tidy workstation makes workers more productive. Some readers start the day with a clean desk, but it gets messy as work is added, and many others say their workstation is messy because they have so much work to do. A couple of readers indicated that a tidy desk shows a person doesn’t have much work to do. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who quoted Albert Einstein, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” 

Thanks to all who responded to the survey!


For 20 years my office was a mess and I was the brunt of company jokes because of it. After all these years they finally got me competent help and lo and behold my office is now clean. I'm the same person except I'm not overwhelmed with work anymore; I can delegate and share and live without stress. A messy office is a sign of an employee who puts the company first and appearances second. A messy office is a cry for help. Bosses who point the finger should point it right back at themselves!

My desk itself isn't too bad, but there is a lot of stuff to be filed sitting on my credenza and on top of the file cabinets. I need to take time to purge, so I can file the recent stuff! Who has time to do stuff like this?

There is a difference between sloppily organized and disorganized sloppiness. According to Webster, I am the epitome of the former. Don't touch my stuff. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Luckily my boss and I both manage our work using the "pile method". I get no complaints since he understands the method of my madness.

Last December, I took over a department that was previously run in a constant state of chaos, and the whole area looked like a tornado hit it. Getting the mess cleaned up and everyone's work and work area organized has decreased the stress level of the team and increased the productivity.

If a desk is too clean, that person has too much free time. I'd be happy to share some of my workload so that I can clean my desk.

My husband can't stand my messy desk. He's no longer invited to visit.

I am very visual so I leave tasks in plain view on my desk so I will remember deadlines and what I have to get done. Boss is a neat freak and tells me he doesn't know how I get anything done with everything on my workstation. Since I am always in upper 5% of performers, he lets me slide, but shakes his head when he visits my workspace.

We try to prank the guy with the messy workstation, but he always "sees" the trinket we add to his desk.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” ― Albert Einstein

I work to keep it straight, but in a day it's messy. I've started having one nice, neat pile for each morning. I have a little of both and this seems to work for me.

A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind!

Verbatim (cont.)

My husband and I both have a work office and a home office. My work and home office are tidy. Both of his offices look like the aftermath of a catastrophic tsunami. He has work crap (for lack of a better word) spread around in every room of our house except for the upstairs bath.

Micro managers that are more concerned about employees' desk space than their productivity are ineffective as leaders.

Having worked for years before computers, I can't seem to get away from the paper unlike my younger coworkers who never print anything. I do periodically clean the desk up and I know where everything is!

When your job description says ‘must be able to juggle multiple priorities’ and you're the one that's doing actual research, your desk is going to have a lot on it at times.

As long as your mind and work are organized, does it matter if your workstation is messy?

My workstation is just messy enough to give people the idea I work hard, but not messy enough to show that I'm overworked 🙂

Our Controller has a really messy desk, and can never find anything. It's pretty serious sometimes, but she continues the mess as if it's normal. Over the years, I have been told that my desk is too clean. What am I getting done if my desk doesn’t have papers strewn across it? Well, I have been the fastest and most productive in every job I've had. So there must be something to this organization thing of mine 🙂

I work from home or in other offices several days a week, so my main workstation looks like I am just visiting...

A few employers and a long time ago, the company safety committee also did a "tidy" tour. You could be written up if you had a messy desk or workstation. I always had to get an exemption during open enrollment as back then we only had paper forms and the central location to send them was my desk. Needless to say, all I had to tell the committee was that if they wanted to keep their benefits in place, don't write me up until after enrollment was done. It worked!

The more interruptions, more open assignments for the day, more multi-tasking (oxymoron) the more mess.

As I get older I realize I need to keep things neat and organized so I can find them later!

Verbatim (cont.)

My desk is organized chaos.

The messiest work station (office) I've ever seen was that of an on-staff ERISA attorney, but he pretty consistently demonstrated that he could locate what he needed, on a moment's notice, despite the appearance of disorganization and chaos.

It could be a little cleaner, but then I'd have to remember where I filed everything.

Actuaries are the worst! They never want to throw anything away.

Everyone has their own filing system. Within reason, everyone should organize their cubicle as best suits them.

I much prefer a clean desk. It used to be, then I got pushed too much work so the backlog sits as I manage to work it.

I normally had a stack of paperwork about 6 or more inches high. However I feel this is acceptable when your office is on as big as the janitors closet and you are a one person department in a division that is 140 people strong.

All of my boss's desks are much messier than my own. Keeping paperwork and folders perpetually on the floor, even under your desk is inappropriate.

Really? How does it matter if the work is done, and done well?

I used to have a messy work space. I called it my "unique filing system". Now, I find the clutter to be distracting. Perhaps it's part of the aging process. I like to keep things organized both on my workstation and in filing cabinets. I generally tend to work on one project at a time, then put it away before starting on the next one.

I don't mind "work" mess. Lots of chotskies, stuffed animals and trinkets - now that is mess I can do without.


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.