Office decorations: Balance personal and professional

If reaching for reference materials requires moving a handful of beads you brought back from Mardi Gras, your personality may be overpowering your professional image.

Personalizing our office space is tempting because we spend more awake hours there than anywhere else. But strike a balance by answering these questions about your cubicle décor:

Who will see it? A receptionist in an office with many VIP visitors obviously enjoys less freedom of expression than someone whose workplace hosts few outsiders. In wide-open spaces, search for private spots to display meaningful mementos. Example: Post an inspirational quote on your keyboard tray.

What does it say about you? Great choices for office decorations tell visitors something about you that might spark a conversation. A photo of you crossing the finish line in a marathon might inspire others as well as yourself. But a wall of blue ribbons hints at either boasting or insecurity.

If doodads and figurines obscure your computer and desktop, don’t be surprised when others question your commitment to work. And while live plants add a splash of color, a dead one screams "Neglect!"

MGR Handbook D

Is it distracting? Although cubicle walls may block your items from view, they still may disturb others. Avoid screensavers and toys with sound effects, or fresh flowers each week if your neighbor suffers from allergies.

Judge whether a candy dish on your desk offers hospitality, unwelcome temptation or an invitation to distractions that keep you from your work.

Does it go overboard? Show off a few prize pieces from your collection, not hundreds of frogs. The test: If it’s impossible to take a professional-looking photo of you from any angle in your workstation, you’ve surrounded yourself with too many items unrelated to work.

Just like professional dress in the workplace, seek cues from the corporate culture, your manager and others you respect about what’s appropriate in your workplace.