Career Woman

You’ve got this: how to deal with a messy coworker


Dr Froswa’ Booker-Drew answers your questions, putting her years of experience and practice into the goal of solving those knotty problems that beset us, and assuring us: ‘you’ve got this’. If you’d like Froswa’ to look at your particular problem, email it to [email protected].

We are in an open plan office and the person who sits at the next desk space to me is like one of those people you see on World’s Extreme Hoarders. Her desk is a nightmare of clutter and stuff piled up every which-way. I’m a total neat freak… I could fill in for Marie Kondo at a pinch. It is doing my head in! Antionette J.


Believe it or not, there is research by psychologist Jay Brand that correlates higher salaries to individuals with messy desks.  There are other studies such as one from Princeton that totally contradicts the aforementioned stating that there is a negative effect of clutter.  Obviously, clutter works for some and not for others.

I’m curious—does the clutter impact your co-worker?  Is she not able to find things?  Does it cause low productivity and focus?  If so, that’s a different conversation because that will definitely impact the team at some point.  If that’s the case, you might want to have a conversation with your boss about it and what can be done to help her.

Is it impacting your ability to be productive or is this more of a preference issue?

If girlfriend is just messy, then my question is to you is what kind of relationship do you have with your co-worker?  Is there trust established?  If so, I think you should tell her that her desk is driving you crazy and that you are willing to help her organize.  You recognize that she’s busy and it might be last on her list to deal with so ask kindly how can you help her.  If she says no help is needed, then let it go.  There are some career experts that would say drop hints but I find that in situations like this, it can come off as passive aggressive or the hint is completely missed because the person doesn’t realize you are talking about them.  If there is not much of a relationship, your desire for her space to be clean might make things worse.

At the end of the day, it’s her space and without company policy that directs acceptable and unacceptable workspaces, it’s her prerogative.  That is one of the challenges with open plan office space but I also believe those spaces were designed for collaboration.  How can you use this opportunity for you both to come to some kind of collaborative agreement about the space you share?  Sounds like you didn’t need Marie Kondo after all!   You. Got. This!

About Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew

Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew is a Partnership Broker. Relational Leadership Junkie. Connector. Author/Speaker/Trainer. Co-Founder, HERitage Giving Circle. She been quoted and profiled in Forbes, Ozy, Bustle, Huffington Post and other media outlets around the world. In addition, she has been asked to speak on a variety of topics such as social capital and networking, leadership, diversity, and community development to national and international audiences. This included serving as a workshop presenter at the United Nations in 2013 on the Access to Power. One of the most impactful life events for her was being a part of the documentary, Friendly Captivity, a film that followed a cast of 7 women from Dallas to India. Honors for her work include: Semi-finalist for the SMU TEDx in 2012, 2012 Outstanding African American Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington, 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Diversity Ambassador for the American Red Cross. Graduating with a PhD from Antioch University in Leadership and Change, she also attended the Jean Baker Miller Institute at Wellesley for training in Relational Cultural Theory and completed facilitator training on Immunity to Change. She has also completed training through UNICEF on Equity Based Evaluations, and is the author of 2 workbooks for women, Ready for a Revolution: 30 Days to Jolt Your Life and Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last as well as a writer for several publications around the globe. WFAA Attention Series: Froswa Booker Drew on Vimeo

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