How Far Can You Go in Decorating Your Cubicle?

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Your office or cubicle speaks volumes about you. So before decking out your desk in daring decor, consider if it might be making a massive misstatement.

Some employers have written guidelines about personalizing workspaces, while many others do not. What's appropriate is sometimes difficult to define.

But a survey of marketing and advertising executives uncovered objects that would strike someone as surprising in most office settings—a live pig, punching bag, mermaid sculpture, a pair of men's underwear, a rock collection, hair dryer, and a drawer full of clothes.

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"It's best to avoid off-color calendars, political posters, racy photos, and other items that can raise eyebrows," says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based recruiting firm, which conducted the survey and released its results this spring. "Along the same lines, it's best to limit how many items you display. Filling your area with too many tchotchkes can be distracting." By doing so, "you may get passed over for important projects or promotions."

In one situation, a young intern did not exercise common sense, and it cost him dearly. He "displayed a semi-nude picture of his girlfriend on his computer screen and refused to take it down when asked," says Pat Imbimbo, director of the Starr Career Development Center at Baruch College in Manhattan. "The picture made other employees and clients uncomfortable and demonstrated poor judgment on his part. He was not hired."

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New employees should err on the conservative side. Observe how colleagues are decorating their work spaces before customizing your own. The company's culture or management tends to dictate the norm. "What is great at Google is not so great at a bank," Imbimbo says.