Ah … messy coworkers. Most of us have had them. Some of us may even have been one of them at times — even if we didn’t realize it. And to complicate things more, what people see as messy can vary. As can office policy on the matter.
So on a scale of aesthetically unpleasing all the way to attracts mice and bugs, exactly how much clutter reaches the level of too messy? Are there types of clutter that feel more acceptable than others? And when (if ever) should it even matter to us?
Why do messy coworkers bother you?
We would probably all agree that if a coworker’s mess reaches the level of invading your cubicle (as from leftover food decomposing in drawers or smelly gym shoes piling up or simply trash spilling over), that’s now your concern.
But if the mess remains within their workspace, should their sloppiness bother you? Does it matter? Are we being too judgemental? Or might messiness reflect something important worth addressing.
- Do messy coworkers appear less competent or less committed to work product quality?
- Are they also less attentive to detail / going the extra mile in their share of the work?
- Is it their seeming obliviousness to respecting a shared workspace or signs of just not caring?
- Does their messiness in any way affect the team’s ability to produce a high quality product? Or their ability to respond quickly to requests for help as they dig through the mess?
- If we like the person are we more tolerant?
Confession: I was a “messy” coworker
Well … they say never judge a book by its cover. And you might add to that never judge a coworker by a messy desk. But many people do exactly that. And I speak from first-hand experience.
I once had a boss who told us to keep our desks clean. Now to me, that meant tidy, with things I’m working on in folders on my desk. And a few personal items just to help humanize my space..
But to him it meant pretty much nothing on the desk. Even if you were in the middle of working on a big project, when you left your desk it had to be clear. Except for the phone. And he meant it!
Should you tell coworker they’re messy?
Messy coworkers come in all shapes and sizes. And all temperaments — especially when your idea of messy and theirs is not the same. And that difference of opinion can occur much of the time. Even if the degree of messiness seems obvious to us. .
Unless their mess is actually affecting your work directly — or as I mentioned earlier invading your workspace with rancid smells or whatever — talking to them about it might not go well. And as well intentioned as you may be, it can leave a lot of hurt feelings … as well as (in some cases) a desire to somehow get back at you.
Childish … yes. But have I seen it often for all kinds of seemingly small reasons? YES! People don’t like to be judged by their colleagues. Or anyone. And for the person basically being told they are slobs, that can trigger all kinds of old hurts that turn even a seemingly innocent comment into a deeply upsetting putdown.
While I hope some of you will share your own experiences and advice on this, my suggestion would be to talk to your manager about it. But only if there is a good reason that affects actual work — or attracts vermin.
A few more thoughts
Unless there is more to the story, probably best to just chalk it up to their “unique” nature. Why let their messiness spoil your day or occupy your thoughts?
Many times something like this becomes a diversion … and draws us away from our own work. Or from other things about the job we might need to look at that could benefit us more directly.
Maybe focus instead on finding their strengths and any things you may have in common to help keep the peace with them. And hopefully help lessen the annoyance of their messy ways for you.
⇒ EXTRA: Your Brain at Work (posts about how your brain responds)
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