Your nondescript formica desk can send a revealing signal, and even give away your most tightly-guarded secrets, about the type of person you are - and that, in turn, may affect how you are seen in your company, and even your promotion prospects. A new survey, commissioned by Adecco Alfred Marks, surveyed photographs of desks from all walks of life - photographers to executives, secretaries to marketing managers - and assessed their owners by the traits in evidence.
Donna Dawson, the behavioural psychologist who conducted the survey, grouped her findings into six varieties. "Just as people are judged by the way they look, so too by the way they work," she says. In every office, there's the super-organised worker complete with a tidy desk. Often the workspace of intimidating PAs or reliable secretaries, this desk is home to the essentials - computer, telephone, notepad and pen - and not much else. Ms Dawson concludes: "The no-nonsense neatness of this desk exudes an aura of quiet power which can be intimidating but may disguise a small chip on its owner's shoulder. This personality is neither outgoing nor introverted, is subject to mood swings, wants to feel needed and is most charming when relied upon."
In contrast, there's the desktop cluttered with stuff which, in its own way, is just as well-organised. While colleagues would have a nightmare trying to find a vital memo there, its owner's filing system makes personal, if individual, sense. While work might be temporarily lost, the owner often uses Post-It notes or equivalent to keep important deadlines. "Its chaotic nature results in stress, and the occupant relies on frequent cups of coffee to keep cool," says Ms Dawson. "Although a workaholic and prone to bouts of angst and hysteria, this personality likes a good chat, is flexible and adaptable and a good cross-thinker."
Others are chaotic in a more creative way: clutter will take the form of books, drawings, pictures and other paraphernalia. "This personality is a lateral thinker and a good source of ideas, and is always on the go. Work is often misplaced," says Ms Dawson.
Perhaps the most irritating desk is one which allows only breathing space for a plethora of cuddly toys. Pictures of Matt Damon - or Clint Eastwood - jostle for position with postcards boasting once-witty slogans. These desk owners are the kind who'd choose a dog because it looks like them. "Women in this category may keep toiletries on their desk. Food and drink is often on display. They also need constant entertainment," claims Ms Dawson.
The last two types are "show" and "trophy" desktops. The first is sparsely furnished, giving a contrived impression of space and control. "This individual is likely to have a double-sided personality, and although friendly within their own social group, they adopt a professional mask and forced bonhomie when necessary. This personality is good at assessing strengths and weaknesses - so will never be caught off guard." The trophy desk visually boasts its owner's successes: holiday shots and brash accessories, for instance. "These people are team leaders and motivators because they think big, but are prone to discontent, tantrums and bouts of sulking," concludes Ms Dawson.
So if a head honcho should venture into your office, it's as well to be prepared. "You have to look the part, and we're in an age where we're always making an instant visual impression."