The Positive Side of Medicine

The Surprising Ways You’re Holding Yourself Back at Work

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The Surprising Ways You’re Holding Yourself Back at Work

If you’re like most people, you spend anywhere from 8-12 hours at work every day. It only makes sense that your workspace will reflect at least a small portion of your personality.

What you might not realize, though, is that how you choose to arrange your workspace and what you display actually sends certain messages to your boss and co-workers, and they may not always be positive. And we’re not just talking about the never-ending “messy v. clean and organized” debate, which will always have proponents on both sides of the fence.

We’re talking about little details as seemingly inconsequential as the type of photos you display or the collection of coffee mugs on a shelf, details that can actually hold you back from landing the promotion that you deserve. Consider these common office decorations and the messages that they send to your colleagues.


Most everyone enjoys displaying photos in their workspace. After all, a snapshot of your adorable kids or best friend Fido can help you get through a long day at the office and remind you of why you’re working so hard. Yet if every surface in your office is covered with framed photos of friends and family, your screensaver is an ever-rotating series of images from your vacation and even your calendar is a custom-made collection of family photos, you could be sending the wrong message about your priorities.

Yes, your family is important, but your boss wants to know that your mind is on work, and you’re not daydreaming about your kids or hanging out with your friends. It’s okay to have a framed portrait or two on your desk, but save the collages for home.

Inspirational Messages

Being a leader and maintaining a positive attitude are important qualities when you want to get ahead at work, whether you work at a hospital, a business office or any other place. When you decorate your workspace with an abundance of inspirational posters and quotes, though, you run the risk of appearing neurotic or emotionally fragile and in need of the reassurance that these images can provide.

The Surprising Way You’re Holding Yourself Back at Work

That being said, you shouldn’t always avoid such decorations: If you find one that matches your personal philosophy and relates to your industry, it can serve as part of your brand at work. In other words, don’t overdo the images of soaring eagles and galloping horses.

Hobby Artifacts

While you might not post an “I’d rather be spelunking” bumper sticker on your desk drawer, if your workspace is covered with photos and paraphernalia from your favorite hobby, you might as well. A single photo or item is fine as a conversation starter, but filling your office with every manner of non-work related tchotchke is not demonstrating a commitment to your work.


You might find a poster or bumper sticker to be hysterically funny, but your co-workers may feel differently. An office filled with toys, joke items, whimsical posters and stickers and all manner of non-work related, childlike items might reflect your fun personality, but it also says that you don’t take work very seriously. Even if you work in a creative industry, like advertising or graphic design, keep the funny business to a minimum.

What You Should Display

Now that you’ve cleared out the excess clutter, what should you put in your office? After all, a bare office is just as bad as one that is overstuffed with junk, as it sends the message that you’re just passing through, or that you don’t care enough to inject a little personality into your space.

If you want to increase your chance of promotion, use these items in your office décor:

• Your diplomas and awards. Hanging your credentials on the wall tells people you want to be taken seriously, and that you have the chops to back up your position.

• A candy dish. Unless it’s contrary to the office culture, place a candy dish and some individually wrapped candies in your space. These, along with a comfortable place to sit, encourage co-workers to stop by and chat. Some of the best brainstorming sessions can come from these informal meetings, and welcoming interaction shows that you’re a team player.

• Corporate logo gear. Using items with a competitor’s logo, even ironically, is always a no-no. Instead, show your pride in your employer by drinking from a company coffee mug, or use a logoed lunch bag. If your company doesn’t offer such items, use low-key, professional versions instead of stuff you collect at conferences.

In terms of your overall career trajectory, your office decor plays a small role, but it still plays a role. Choose your decorations carefully, and soon you could find yourself filling the corner office instead of a cubicle.

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