We all remember how well we reacted to being told to clean our rooms when we were young. When clean desk policies first came into fashion, many people felt a lot like they had been reduced to 7 year olds arguing with their parents again, but despite the initial resistance, clean desk polices are now becoming the norm. A clean desk policy is better known as a corporate directive that specifies how employees should leave their working space when they leave the office, with most businesses requiring all employees to clear their desks of paperwork at the end of each day. This doesn’t just cover paper, but post-it notes, business cards, rubbish and removable media like USB sticks. This isn’t just being done because your boss is a neat freak. Many businesses follow these policies in order to increase security and reduce the risk of confidential data loss or theft, but they often fail to realise the hidden benefit of clean desks – a boost in employee morale, mood and productivity.
Keeping your desk clean and clear is key to being able to get your work done. While there are some arguments that messy desks force people to think more creatively about solving problems, this does not translate into productivity for every day work. Despite the excuses some might give, different piles are not organisation, and often they could not find a specific document quickly if you asked them. That’s because in reality you are never going to work at your best when you have to search through piles of things to find that one document due in the next hour. In order to foster productivity your workspace should work for you, not hinder you. Think of your desk as a car – everything you need most immediately (steering wheel, gearstick, indicators, pedals) should be within arm’s length, and the rest hidden away for when you might need it. For most people these essential items are their computer, mouse and keyboard, telephone, notepad and calendar. Everything else should have a home elsewhere – for example in a filing drawer under your desk or organised into a box or folder. This leaves the desk space clear and gives you room to work and to think creatively. Your performance coincides directly with your workspace – when it’s organised and precise you have the mind set and motivation to work efficiently.
The state of your dedicated workspace is a lot like your physical appearance – it says a lot about you. For example did you know that out of 1000 office based workers, 57% admit to judging their co-workers by how clean or dirty their workspace is? Nearly half of that same group said they had been ‘appalled’ by how messy a colleague’s office and desk was, and chalked the reason up to bad habits, negative attitude towards work or pure laziness. With so many open plan and flexible offices today, more people can see into your workspace, and despite their best efforts, they will judge you on it. This can be worse when there is a visitor to your office, as it gives a negative impression of your company as well as you individually. Employees with messy, dirty desks tend to find themselves getting isolated from the rest of their team and experiencing friction in the office, seemingly because of nothing. But the truth is it’s the desk. Implementing a clean desk policy for all employees (where ‘clean’ means clear of papers and clean of dirt) will help office workers bond without these subconscious judgements invading working relationships.
People do their best work when they feel happy, comfortable and safe. The problem is that when an office cuts corners with cleaning and organisation to say, reduce costs or foster a relaxed, creative environment, it can often have negative effects on employee morale. A survey done into the effects of office cleanliness and tidiness on morale revealed that in offices where staff were allowed messy desks and corners were cut on cleaning:
- 72% said their surroundings made them less productive
- 46% said they took longer lunch breaks and spent less time in the office
- 25% said they took sick leave because the surroundings depressed them
The simple fact that the work environment was not cared for by their peers or their management severely impacted the enjoyment these employees took in their work and instead had a negative impact on attendance, productivity and morale. However, in offices that were well maintained and a clean desk policy was in effect for employees:
- 65% said they looked forward to coming into a clean office in the morning
- 49% thought they worked harder as a result of a better organised office
- 26% said they took shorter breaks or spent lunch breaks at their desk
In the grand scheme of things, ensuring your desk is clean, tidy and free of paperwork at the end of each day is a small price to pay for the benefits it gives. In our next post we will tell you how to implement a clean desk policy in your office, including how to ditch the paperwork safely and make sure everyone gets on board. In the meantime for more information about disposing of those old documents, get in touch.