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Can Office Clutter Damage Your Career?

Is your desk covered with coffee stains? Did you just find the wrapper to an energy bar you ate six months ago? Do you work on the "I could have sworn it was in this pile" filing system?

If so, you might lose out on a promotion, says a new OfficeMax study. At the very least, your co-workers might not want you working on their projects.

Some offices can go to the extreme, however, by starting clean desk policies and by not allowing employees to add any personal touches to their office or cubicle -- e.g., a family picture, a small plant, a funny but tasteful magnet, and so on. Such management practices can hurt employee morale in ways managers don't realize. I've seen it happen. Managers think the neat and clean office looks like a page out of Architectural Digest while employees feel like they can't bring their true selves to work because, literally, they aren't allowed to bring anything about themselves to work. Stressed-out employees start to spend as much time keeping their cubicles spotless as they do getting actual work done. There's a fine line here.

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