Does Your Messy Office Signal You’re a Neurotic Jerk?

workspace office

Trending News: New study draws link between messy offices and personality issues.

Look around your office for a moment. Is it neat and clean? For example, are papers stacked into piles or are they scattered everywhere? How about your binders and books? Are they standing upright and straight or are they strewn about haphazardly?

Believe it or not, your answers to those questions may reveal something about your personality. Well, that is if you believe the results of a new study that suggests having an messy office may telegraph to others that you are an uncaring, neurotic jerk.

Yep, you read that right. According to a University of Michigan study, folks who have messy workspaces [unintentionally] send a negative message about their personalities to coworkers.

The findings have been published in the Journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“I think this line of research is thought provoking but I’m not sure we can generalize the results to everyone because different workplaces have different norms,” said Costa Provis, a Licensed Psychotherapist who Guy Counseling spoke to about the study.

For this investigation, researchers conducted three experiments involving 160 people. Participants were randomly assigned to three offices that were identically decorated.

The first was clean and uncluttered. The second was “somewhat” messy. The third was a complete disaster.

So, what did the findings show? Well, participants who sat in the second office (“somewhat messy”) assigned negative traits to the occupant, such as being less agreeable and more neurotic than the neat office.

And the impression of folks who sat in the third, unkempt workspace? They assigned super undesirable qualities to the occupant, such as being uncaring, highly neurotic, and lacking contentiousness.

Sarah Dyszlewski, one of the study’s co-authors, made the following observation. “Once trait information about a target becomes activated in perceivers’ minds, either consciously or unconsciously, that information can subsequently affect how they process information about, the types of questions they ask of, and how they behave toward the target, possibly bringing out the very trait information that they expected to see from the target in the first place,” said Dyszlewski.

Related: Do you have a jock personality?

There are limitations to this research. Probably the biggest drawback is that the offices were designed to give participants the impression they were occupied by a man.

Second, some workspaces are naturally going to be “messy” because of the nature of the job. An example might be someone working in the creative space, where clutter is the norm.

Finally, there is an argument to be made that an overly organized office may telegraph other undesirable personality traits, such as being a control freak or anally retentive.

“Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this study is that people do form first impressions, based on subjective experiences,” commented Provis. “Still, it might not be a bad idea to tidy up your workspace at the end of the day,” he said with a laugh.

What does your workspace look like right now? What impressions do you think it broadcasts about your personality?

About MJ Duff 44 Articles
Marie-Jones Duff is a Los Angeles based freelance multimedia journalist and frequent traveler with a fondness for all things bizarre and nerdy. Look for posts that focus on everything from men's fashion to science.