messy office work desk covered in files, cups, papers and pens

Study reveals the impact of messy desks

When you’re busy working hard and focused on getting through your ‘to do’ list, it’s common for your workspace to become cluttered.

But did you know that your messy desk could be affecting your productivity, well-being, wallet and chances of getting a promotion?

In our Workplace Organisation Survey, we quizzed more than 2,000 UK office workers to uncover how a disorganised desk can affect everyday life– some of the results are shocking.

Though 70% of the professionals we spoke to say they like to think that they keep their workspace tidy, a third of those quizzed admitted that their desk was messy – and it turns out that popular modern working practices like smaller desks, hot-desking, and open plan office are compounding the problem.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the other survey findings.

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect performance and productivity

The effect of a messy desk on your performance and productivity

It’s not surprising to learn that having a disorganised, cluttered desk leads to decreased productivity (both for the guilty party and their colleagues), increased workload, and lots of wasted time.

41% of those we surveyed said they believed a tidy workspace makes people more productive; 21% admitted that having a cluttered desk has somehow increased their workload, while 20% said a workmate’s messy space has had a negative impact on how much they were able to get done in their working day.

Further research from Princeton University Neuroscience Institute has suggested that because our brains respond well to order, an untidy desk can lead to a loss of focus. The study also suggests that removing clutter from a desk space helped people process information better, thus increasing productivity.

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect career promotion

The effect of office disorganisation on your career and chances of promotion

No one wants to get stuck in a work rut – but could it be that your chaotic desk is the reason that you’re not progressing up the career ladder as quickly as you’d like?

30% of our survey-takers said they believe that a tidy desk is part and parcel of presenting a professional image at work, and 1 in 10 bosses admitted that a messy workspace could make them think twice about promoting one of their employees. So if you’re considering asking for a raise or a job role with more responsibility, it may be time for a clear-out.

Research also shows that those with cluttered workspaces are more likely to become distracted and procrastinate. If the messiness of your desk is at the forefront of your mind, you’re more likely to become focussed on resolving it and thus paying less attention to work deadlines. This can lead to falling behind and lower quality work, impacting your career progression.

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect perception in the workplace

The effect of an untidy workspace on workplace perception

And it’s not just your boss who might judge you for your untidiness around the office – it could be causing your colleagues to think less of you too.

40% of the office workers we talked to said that they thought a messy desk must mean that their workmate was disorganised, and, when it comes to their perception of junior colleagues, the stat shot up to 75%. That’s bad news for those just starting in their career who want to make a good impression on their team but can’t seem to keep their clutter under control.

An additional study from the University of Michigan suggests that colleagues could perceive a co-worker with a messy table as more neurotic and less agreeable. This can lead to perceptions being made about an employee which could negatively impact their career prospects and relationships.

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect finance

The effect of a cluttered working area on finances

It’s easy for stuff to get lost when it’s buried amongst a tonne of junk.

1 in 5 of those surveyed told us they’d misplaced something of value thanks to their disorganised workspace, with 17% losing an item worth somewhere between £50 and £200. Proof that being tidy and organised can increase business cost efficiency by reducing the need to replace equipment!

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect work enjoyment

The effect of a disorderly desk on your health and wellbeing

And finally, it turns out that a chaotic workspace can have an emotional impact too.

Many of our survey-takers admitted that their messy desk affected their mood, with 31% saying it increased their stress and a massive 49% saying it changed how they felt about going to work each day.

Having cluttered desks can have a negative impact on your mental health, causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Studies also suggest visual clutter can cause higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, leading to anxiety and depression. It’s also possible that a messy workspace can lower self-confidence.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s study highlights that the process of cleaning your workspace can help clear your mind. The resulting tidy workspace will reduce stress and anxiety while improving concentration on work tasks.   

infographic statistics on how messy desks can affect organisation

Five tips for keeping your desk tidy and organised

So what’s the best way to ensure you don’t fall foul of the curse of the messy desk? Here are our top tips for keeping things organised.

  1. Kit out your workspace
    Getting yourself a pencil jar, stackable paper trays and even a coaster can make the world of difference when it comes to keeping everything in order.
  2. Get labelling
    Whether it’s labelling up your charger, adaptors or devices, labels provide the perfect solution to ensuring your things don’t end up lost on a colleague’s cluttered desk – or worse, purposefully taken!
  3. Don’t eat at your desk
    Though it’s tempting to grab your lunch on the go, dirty dishes and crumbs don’t make for a pleasant working environment, so it’s better to keep your desk food-free.
  4. Scan your notes
    Rather than letting paperwork pile up on every available surface, think about whether you might be better off scanning the vital stuff and storing it digitally instead – it’s much less likely to go missing that way.
  5. Take two minutes each day to tidy
    Clearing your desk can become a mammoth task if you let the clutter build up. But doing a mini ‘spring clean’ at the end of each day can help you stay on top of it all, no matter how busy you are.

Make messy desks a thing of the past, check out our label printers here.

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