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Your Messy Desk Costs Billions

What does your desk look like? Everything in it's place? Do you straighten your stack of Post-it notes? Or does it look like a tornado just went through?

Your degree of slovenliness may matter to your bosses, not because they hate slobs, but because slobs cost money. That's the thesis of a study by Brother International, the office products company. While it is in Brother's interest to convince you to buy things which organize your desk, the survey results are interesting nonetheless.

Jane's semi-messy desk.
CNBC
Jane's semi-messy desk.

The company says it interviewed about 800 office workers, and by combining that information with the salaries of office workers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, surveyors determined that the time spent looking for misplaced items costs Corporate America $177 billion a year. An estimated 76 hours per year--nearly two work weeks--are lost per person due to searching for items around the office or on the computer. Three out of ten employees have lost a file folder in the past year, while one in four lost a mobile phone, a calculator, and/or a flash memory drive.

Then there are things I find inexcusable. Thirty percent of those surveyed say they've lost out on a reimbursement for a business or travel expense because they couldn't find the receipt. I guess if getting paid back is important to you, you won't lose the receipt. And, buried in the results, is something that has nothing to do with disorganization and a lot to do with lost productivity: 17 percent of office workers say they spend at least 86 working hours a year on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. That's more than two full work weeks. Here's my question. Does it count if you have Facebook and Twitter up all day (as I do)? I check them regularly for, um, purely professional reasons? Still, I couldn't possibly tell you how much time I spend there.

In the end, the Brother International survey says nine out of ten office workers feel less productive when they're workspace is disorganized, and eight out of ten believe that someone who is disorganized hurts productivity for the whole office. Finally, it appears that most office workers consider themselves more organized than their peers. God bless Americans. We do think very highly of ourselves. It's always someone else's fault.

The website also allows you to take a quiz to determine how organized you are. I scored a 29, "a good solid work performer". However, I apparently need help. Brother suggests a labeler "may not only help you become more productive, but may go a long way to keeping your stress level in check." If a labeler can reduce stress, I'm investing in office products until the economy improves.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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