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How not to mess up your career

Think hoarding paper at work is cool? Think again

(Photo: Jan Stromme/Getty)

Remember the paperless office concept?

Back in 1975, when increases in the need to manage corporate files had pushed an average secretary’s salary up 68% in ten years, even the corporate world’s number one paper pusher thought it saw the writing on the wall.

George E. Pake, who headed Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center (or PARC) in California at the time, certainly saw the days of paper as being seriously numbered. “There is absolutely no question that there will be a revolution in the office over the next 20 years,” he told BusinessWeek. “What we are doing will change the office like the jet plane revolutionized travel and the way that TV has altered family life.”

He correctly predicted that by 1995 offices would have TV-display terminals that allow documents and messages to be called up electronically and viewed on the screen. “I don’t know how much hard copy I’ll want in this world,” he noted.

Pake—who famously tried to push Xerox into computing—died in 2004. But if alive today, he’d probably be surprised by the piles of paper that still exist in the office place. Indeed, while companies have shifted to a more digital workplace, almost 50% of Canadian workers surveyed by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder Canada admit they still rely on paper files.

Meanwhile, 32% describe themselves as paper hoarders, which isn’t a good thing since 39% of employers said piles of paper covering a desk negatively impacted their perception of the worker in question. Almost 30% said they were less likely to promote someone with a cluttered workspace.

“While chaos on your desk space can indicate a busy workload, it can also imply a lack of organization,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

So how office Oscar Madisons stop themselves from making a mess of their career and reverse any negative perceptions of their performance? Simple. Clean up. Haefner recommends setting a regular calendar reminder for trips to the recycle bin.