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Is Your Desk Keeping You From a Promotion? 5 Ways to Show You Mean Business.


by Gary Austin of Gary Austin Advertising

Stop what you’re doing and look at your workspace. Is it neat and organized with just a few personal items adorning the walls and desk? Or is it like a lot of other desks — a chaotic jumble of paperwork, files and empty coffee cups, with a computer monitor covered with sticky notes and a bulletin board overflowing with photos from your last vacation and nights out with friends?

How you decorate and organize your workspace says a lot about you, and it sends a powerful message to your boss and co-workers about your commitment to your job and ability to do your work. So while you might think that your inspirational posters and collection of wind-up toys says that you’re a fun and positive team player, you might actually be sending the opposite message.

If you’re gunning for a promotion, take a look at your workspace and make some of these changes to show that you’re up to the challenge:

Vacations and Photos and Toys, Oh My.

Your bulletin board is covered with photos of friends and family. The calendar is covered with big X’s, counting down the days until your next getaway. A whole shelf is devoted to toys and knick-knacks that you’ve collected at conferences. And your boss thinks that you’d rather be anywhere than work.

While displaying a single framed family photo or vacation shot and keeping a single toy like a stress ball next to your computer is fine, resist the urge to turn your desk into a gallery of memories. Instead, fill the space with work-related items, like reference books, framed diplomas and awards to show that your mind is on your work from 9 to 5.

Sticky Notes are So Last Century.

We’ve all seen them: computer screens that are barely visible amongst all of the yellow notes attached around the screen, with everything from appointment dates to cryptic “Don’t Forget!” reminders. An abundance of notes might keep you on track, but it also shows your boss that you aren’t willing to use technology. With smartphones and computer programs designed to keep us productive, there is no excuse for doing things the old-fashioned way, especially since your boss can interpret that as both a resistance to change and a lack of technical prowess, neither of which are promotable traits.

A Place for Everything, Everything in Its Place.

While some believe that a messy desk is a sign of creativity, if it takes you more than a moment to put your hands on an important file, your boss will not be impressed. In fact, your jumble of papers sends the message that you aren’t conscientious about your work — and not promotable. Develop an intuitive filing system that clearly shows your priorities and allows you to locate everything you need quickly. Keep the rest of your area neat and tidy as well.

For example, instead of constantly searching for a pen, keep a mug full of your company’s advertising pens on your desk. That way, when your boss stops by you won’t be embarrassed that the only pen you can find for note taking is the one you stole from your doctor’s office advertising a new prescription drug.

Your Desk is Not the Kitchen Table.

Everyone eats lunch at their desk once in a while. But if your trash can is overflowing with takeout containers and empty coffee cups, you’re telling the world that you don’t even have time to take a break from work — which might lead your boss to believe that you aren’t able to handle the work you’re doing now, never mind get a promotion. If you must eat at your desk, toss the evidence in the kitchen wastebasket.

It’s All in Who You Know.

Studies show that sociability can help lead to advancement, as it indicates the extroverted nature that most leaders demonstrate. Adding touches to your workspace that encourage co-workers to stop by, such as a candy jar, shows your boss that you’re open to building relationships and collaborating. Keep your door open, and spend some time getting to know your co-workers to boost your chances of a promotion.

While your skills and your previous work will always be your boss’ first concerns when it comes time to hand out promotions, if your disorganize and unfocused desk sends a conflicting message, someone else might get the coveted spot. Take some time to make sure your workspace reflects both your commitment to your career and employer and the competent professional that you really are.


Gary Austin, also known as “The Pen Guy,” has been providing organizations with custom promotional products for over 25 years. Gary Austin Advertising specializes in pens, koozies, lighters, umbrellas and pretty much anything else you can think of to get your name out.

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