Managing Wellness

A Cluttered Office Could Hurt Worker Productivity: Tips for Tidying Up

  • Studies show that working in a cluttered office can be bad for your brain and limit creativity
  • While some people swear they thrive in their messy workspace, promoting a culture of cleanliness will benefit your workplace overall
  • By scheduling time for periodic workplace cleanups, it can streamline projects and keep employees focused on tasks at hand

Posted by May 17, 2019

Is your desk buried under a mountain of paperwork, sticky notes and yesterday’s lunch containers? It may be time to dig out. A Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study found that having a cluttered office may be bad for your brain.

Researchers studied almost 5,000 adults to gain insight into how their work environment affected their attention, cognition and memory. They found that those who work in dirty or cluttered office spaces had a steeper cognitive decline than their tidier counterparts.

But what does that mean for the average office? Probably that it’s high time for everyone to clean up their workspace. But if Marie Kondo-ing cubicles feels a little too extreme, here’s why even a little desk organization can benefit your staff.

A Messy Desk Can Hamper Creativity

If employees’ desktops are disorganized and disheveled, it may be stifling their creative mojo. According to a study by Brother, 40% of survey participants said a messy workspace actually causes them to be less productive. Besides clutter promoting procrastination, having to clean it all up later just takes more time away from the important work you rely on your employees to do.

Mess can also be physically and emotionally draining. So while cleaning off your desk entirely to tackle a new project may feel oddly cathartic, promote a work culture of cleaning as you go so that everyone can get their best work done now—not later.

When Creative Chaos Is Too Chaotic

Some employees swear they thrive on chaos and actually perform better amid the mess. In fact, there are studies that confirm a messy desk has merits for some workers. Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.

So for pack rats, a cluttered office may be conducive to workplace bliss. But keep in mind that this state of creative chaos may not work well for everyone, so it’s important to institute a baseline of cleanliness for your office.

Occasional desk cleanings can also keep your office neat and from being an eyesore to visiting executives and interviewees. Schedule time for employees to periodically clear out stacks of old papers, decrease the size of large piles on their desk, and attempt to put work staples like pens and paper clips in their proper place.

How to Keep Workspaces Shipshape

The key to keeping even the most hectic offices from looking like a junk heap is being proactive about tidiness. For instance, giving everyone a personal trash can may seem like a good idea, but if your cleaning staff only comes once a week, these receptacles can create a stinky, unpleasant environment for those sitting near them. Encourage your workers to take their food waste to a centralized garbage bin after each meal, and explain how small efforts like this can improve the whole office.

Additionally, here are a few things employees can routinely do to keep their workspaces fresh and clean:

  • Take everything off the desk, wipe it down, and put back only the essentials items.
  • Permanently remove any objects that don’t belong (e.g., change, business cards, batteries) and get rid of excess personal items—or store them away in drawers.
  • Designate a physical inbox where anything of importance should go.
  • Create shelves or use file cabinets to store away things only needed occasionally.
  • Corral notepads, sticky notes, pens and pushpins in designated containers.

Even if an employee’s default desk mode is a state of disarray, creating a workplace culture that promotes organization stands to improve wellness at your company. And, hey, if enough people join in, even your most untidy workers may embrace cleanliness, too.

Looking for more ways to promote wellness in the workplace? Check out United Concordia’s website for more tips.

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