Messy desk-havers, unite! Recent studies show that you might not be the lazy, disorganized slob your tidier coworkers believe you to be. Instead, you just might be the next Einstein or Roald Dahl.
“Messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as the problem-solving approaches they seem to cause can boost work efficiency or enhance employees’ creativity in problem solving,” say researchers.
Jia Liu of the University of Groningen says that managers who promote clean office cubicles might be going about increasing productivity the wrong way.
Clean desk policies are “based on the conventional wisdom that a disorganized and messy environment can clutter one’s mind and complicate one’s judgments,” says Liu. “However, not all evidence supports this conventional link between a messy environment and a messy mind.”
Instead, researchers found that clean desk advocates were being overly simplistic. They tended to choose less complicated products, such as t-shirts with a simpler design, instead of more creative, involved merchandise.
The benefits to messy desks might outweigh the costs. In their book, “A Perfect Mess,” authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, argue that a messy desk can actually be the product of a productive worker.
“Mess isn’t necessarily the absence of order,” say Abrahamson and Freedman. “A messy desk can be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system.”
Messy deskers often claim that they have a system, and Abramson and Freedman say they might be right. In a messy environment, they claim, important documents tend to stay on top of the pile, where they’re most needed. In addition, some of those sloppy-looking piles might represent a fairly advanced organizational system, they say.
In fact, the messiest desks of all might belong to the CEO. “Company heads are decidedly less organized than their subordinates,” said Dr. Wayne Nemeroff, PsyMax Solutions CEO. Workers with higher levels of education and experience tended to have messier desks than those at lower levels in the organization, the book said. And that’s not even beginning to talk about famously messy creative geniuses like Albert Einstein, Roald Dahl, and Steve Jobs.
Still, companies don’t always recognize the advantages of the messy desk lifestyle. Occasionally, they go so far as to fire workers who don’t conform to the organization’s ideal of the tidy work area. In 1985, a former Red Cross employee — ironically named Rita McClean — sued for $92,000 after being terminated, in part for having a messy desk. No word on whether she (forgave them) cleaned up.