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Here's How to Get Along With Your Messy Co-Worker

Need another reason to hate the open office? Here's one: your messy co-worker's cluttered desk becomes your problem.

messy desk 

(Photo Credit: calgrin/Morguefile)

"Just the sight of all the piles can stress out neat co-workers, distract them from work and even hurt their performance, research shows," writes Sue Shellenbarger at The Wall Street Journal. "Pressuring mess-makers to clean up isn't easy, however, and it can backfire if they take offense."

So what do you do?

1. Understand that everyone is different.

Your mess is someone else's "system." Some of the most creative people who ever lived, Einstein and Steve Jobs among them, had cluttered workspaces. That doesn't mean that big thoughts always come with cluttered physical offices, but it does mean that we're all going to have to accommodate each other's foibles.

2. Create boundaries.

Shellenbarger spoke with workers who were intensely frustrated by their colleagues' messes, mostly because their clutter slopped over onto other people's desks. That's where personal preference goes out the window. When one worker's messy desk becomes everyone's problem, the clutter-loving co-worker needs to learn how to confine his stuff to his area.

In an open office, where spaces are harder to define, managers might consider assigning lockers or other personal spaces to contain the tide. But the most important thing is that everyone be considerate of their co-workers' needs.

3. Set a good example.

You'll never make a messy person neat, no matter how appealing your shining, clean work area becomes, but you can inspire people to be more thoughtful of one another by doing the same. Failing that, be the communicator you want your colleagues to model. Practice asking nicely, before you're so annoyed that you're ready to stuff your co-worker's piles of clutter and rafts of desk toys in the Dumpster.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you prefer a messy desk or a clean one? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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