149781996_060f78a9d8_o Image: Nina Hale/Flickr

Do you have a messy desk? If you have, you may want to think about having a clear out, as one in ten bosses say a messy desk would lead them to overlook a junior colleague for promotion, according to new research.

In a survey of more than 2,000 office workers, a third of office workers admit to having a desk that is cluttered or a mess, whilst nearly half (49%) believe an untidy workspace affects how they feel about going to work every day.

They admitted that it makes them less productive (40%) increases stress (31%) adds to their workload (21%) and makes them worry that their colleagues will be judging them (12%). Additionally, almost a quarter (24%) even said that messy colleagues have a negative impact on their own productivity during a working day.

The research, by Brother UK, revealed three out of four bosses think having a messy desk means an employee is disorganised, whilst 40% of office workers think the same when they see untidy colleagues. A further 15% believe those with untidy desks don’t take pride in their work.

Managers admitted to judging junior colleagues with an untidy workspace as being disorganised (73%), struggling with their workload (27%) or simply too busy (25%). They rated a messy desk as being on a par with having an unkempt personal appearance when it comes to considering what would prevent them awarding a promotion.

Modern working practices appear to be contributing to the problem. Office workers reported that hot-desking (33%), working from home (21%) and open plan offices (18%) make it more difficult to maintain a tidy workspace.

Interestingly, the millennial generation has the highest proportion of tidy desks (22%) yet are more likely to negatively judge a co-worker for having a messy desk than any other age group. Almost twice as many 25-34 year-old office workers believe a messy desk means that a colleague is disorganised (12%) and struggling with their workload (10%) than those aged 45-55.

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, analysed the survey results for Brother UK. He said: “Our colleagues and bosses are making judgments about us every minute of the day, often without even knowing. The old adage ‘a tidy desk makes a tidy mind’ might not always be true, but, as the research shows, if you’re looking for promotion it’s important that you give colleagues the impression that you are in control of your workload.

“Younger workers are often seen as more relaxed when it comes to maintaining standards in the office, but this research turns that idea on its head. Millennials are under more pressure than previous generations to prove themselves in the workplace, and keeping a tidy and organised workspace is part of them showing their capability.”

Almost one in five (17%) office workers also admitted that their untidy workspace has even resulted in them losing something of financial value such as receipts, booking orders or cheques, to the average cost of almost £148.

For those office workers with tidy and organised desks, they reported feeling more in control (53%), more productive (52%) and generally happier (48%).

Phil Jones, UK MD at Brother UK said: “Office culture and ways of working are continually changing, yet the age-old problem of staying organised in amongst a hyper busy world remains.

“We are storing information both digitally and on paper and having fast access to the things that matter through good organisation can make a massive difference to your personal productivity.”