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Office Life Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
What your desk says about you
Organised Chaos
Organised Chaos (cartoons courtesy Adecco Alfred Marks)
Overlooked for promotion? It could be more to do with what is on your desk than what you do at your desk.

A study by recruitment agency Adecco Alfred Marks claimed desks could reveal the true personality, habits and ambitions of their owners.

Hundreds of workspaces belonging to office workers were studied by behavioural psychologist Donna Dawson, who looked at the layout and patterns of possessions on the desks. From that, she said she could discern six main types of personality.

"What is not on the desk can be just as telling as what is, so it is important to think whether your desk really expresses what you want it to, as it can give away a great deal," she said.

So what is your desk saying about you?

The Business-Like, Super-Organised Desk
This functional and neat workspace, with no fuss, frills or personal belongings is most likely to be inhabited by a super-efficient PA or secretary. A notepad, pen and essential office equipment are prominent, leaving little room for clutter. The desk exudes an aura of quiet power which can be intimidating, but may also disguise a chip on its owner's shoulder - due to lack of appreciation. This personality is subject to mood swings, wants to feel needed but is charming and helpful when relied upon.

The Organised Chaos Desk
This personality would love to be tidy, but panics if everything is not to hand, and has a "filing system" of piles of paper, overflowing onto the floor and under the desk. The occupant wallpapers the space with reminders but loses them in the chaos. To cope with the stress and worry this person needs frequent cups of coffee or cigarettes to keep cool. Although a workaholic and prone to occasional bouts of angst and hysteria, they like a good chat to break the monotony of work, are flexible and adaptable and brilliant for brainstorming.

Show desktop
'Show' desktop
The Creative Chaos Desk
This space is likely to be filled with an array of clutter revealing wide-ranging interests and an agile and creative mind. Modern technology does not feature strongly. Though occasionally distracted, this personality is a great lateral thinker and a good source of ideas. They need to have things at hand, but only vaguely know where everything is, and work is often misplaced. Always on the go but work is the key driving force.

The Personality Extension Desk
This desk is covered in personal touches, from posters, holiday photos and postcards to plants, cuddly animals and zany mouse-mats. Surrounding walls will also be covered in memorabilia and pictures of favourite celebrities. People this category may even keep toiletries on their desk, such as hand cream or vitamin pills. These personalities are always on the go, and need constant refreshment, so food and drink is often on display. They also need constant entertainment, and although friendly and talkative, are not always discreet.

The Show Desk
This desk projects a contrived image of either its occupant or the company they represent. It is large and sparsely furnished with no personal effects, giving the impression of space and control. This individual is likely to have a double sided personality, but few at work will know the real person behind the facade. Although friendly within their own social group, once behind the desk, they adopt a professional mask.

Super organised desktop
The Trophy Desk
The workspace is messy and covered in items which reflect a part of the owner's social, professional or financial successes. It may appear haphazard, but each "trophy" is strategically and deliberately placed for maximum effect. Items range from postcards and pictures of expensive holidays, to sporting or professional awards. Desktop accessories will be bold and brightly coloured. These people are natural team leaders - they think big - but need to be appreciated or they are prone to discontent, tantrums and bouts of sulking.

Know your signals

Being aware of the messages you are sending out could be the key to career advancement or the respect you command in the work-place, Ms Dawson said.

"I think you need to be aware not just of what you want to show people but what people are going to judge by what you show them. When you get to understand that you can manipulate it so that you are giving maybe a different message from the way you really are," she said.

Being professional does not mean leaving your personality at home entirely. A few personal effects can be motivating and show that you enjoy coming to work.

Those who share desks, or move around desks from day to day, could be known as the Repressed Desk personalities.

"The company has an underlying message when they introduce hot-desking. They're saying you're here on my time, I'm paying you and I'm going to get as much out of you as I can," Ms Dawson said.

But that theory may not work in the long term.

"I think people do need to claim a desk for their own, they need to feel comfortable there and if they can't make a personal space for themselves they're going to feel like robots and they may not deliver the goods."

Clear as Mud

Too many office-dwellers hide behind gobbledegook, using jargon and obscure words. They may think it makes them look clever, but it leaves most people mystified.

A favourite example of the Plain English Campaign is from a job advertisement for a building society. It read: "Our success has been based on consistent, integrated teamwork and quality enhancement through people. By ensuring consistency in the development and integration of process plans, you will facilitate the management process to develop implementation plans for the processes they manage."

E-mail us your examples of ridiculous English which has been used in your office. The worst entry will win a Guide to Clear English which the winner can secretly leave on the offender's desk.

Click here to submit your entry.

Please include details of your name and country.

BBC News
Tip: "Err on the side of neatness"
BBC News
Hot-desking sends a clear message - "You're here to work"
BBC News
"In some cases certain desks seem to fit particular jobs."
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