What Your Workspace Tells Your Colleagues About You

Spend some time on the #deskgoals or #officeinspo hashtags on Instagram. They're full of beautifully organized workspaces, the kind that make you think you could get real work done there. What you do next with that inspiration may differ significantly depending on whether you're a neat person or a messy person.

We make all kinds of judgments about appearances, some of which are so strongly wired, we have to work to undo them. For one, we link untidiness with neuroticism, disagreeableness and lack of caring — that's according to new research just published by a team at the University of Michigan. Psychologists presented study participants with three offices, each belonging to a male occupant. One office was neatly organized, one was "somewhat" messy, and the third was very messy, as well as a little dirty. The personal items in each office were basically neutral: "a baseball cap hanging on a door hook, a cup containing candy, a baby photo, and science books and academic journals in a bookcase," according to a press release.

The messier the office, the more study participants were turned off by the occupant, even if they never met him. Participants guessed at the office holder's personality, and increased messiness led to a perception of decreased conscientiousness. The researchers theorized that even if those personality traits don't correlate with a person's behavior, that person may start to inadvertently mirror the expectation that others have. In other words, because people believe you're careless because you're messy, you might get a little bit more careless.

There are definitely limits on either extreme to how one should organize one's workspace, especially in an open office setting. But if you're curious about what your personal space says about you, it never hurts anyone to declutter.