Client cluttered office
Messy employees and cluttered office workspace

When it comes to cleanliness, everyone has their own definition of what that means.  While some keep their homes spotless, others go weeks between cleanings and allow clutter to accumulate on tables, chairs, floors and just about every other nook and cranny. When a person’s space is shared with others those types of cleaning habits can become very irritating.  This is especially true in an office environment, where co-workers and clients pass through.  Maintaining an uncluttered, professional environment can be difficult when you have employees whose definition of cleanliness differs from yours.

Here are a few things you can do if you have employees who never clean up their workspaces.

Uncover the Root Cause

Many leaders believe that a worker’s messiness harms productivity.  Interestingly, numerous case studies have contradicted those claims and actually have found that for some people, clutter actually makes them more productive. Forcing those employees to adhere to a cleanliness standard that works for other employees may actually hinder them.

While keeping that in mind, it is crucial to pinpoint the specific problems with that employee’s messiness and address those.  As an example, have you found that the employee has difficulty locating specific documents?  Are other co-workers complaining about the mess?  Does the workspace poorly represent your organization when you have visitors onsite?  Each of these issues would merit a different approach.

Reduction in Paper-Heavy Processes

Some employees could be perceived as messy and unclean because their desks are covered in papers.  Investigate the processes that are creating a large amount of paper, you may be able to find a simple solution.  The employees tasked with dealing with an overabundance of invoices, purchase requests, or contracts on a daily basis are required to handle a level of document management that other employees aren’t required to deal with.

There are a lot of software solutions available to reduce paper and make employees more efficient.  By taking employees needs away from the big metal filing cabinet and keeping them closer to their workstation, you’ll eliminate a large portion of clutter on their desk.  For employees that must be mobile, a tablet such as an Apple iPad equipped with the proper software can replace the ole clipboard and pencil.  Employees can scan and file documents right from their tablet with features built into the iPad.

Relocate the Employee

If the main issue is the negative impact the employee’s behavior is having on co-workers or visitors, consider relocating that employee to a different part of the office.  This option can be challenging in today’s very popular and common open-office work environment, but a private area away from the lobby and/or elevators would be ideal.

If the employee is creating an issue in a shared work area, first start by addressing the issue with the entire staff, and discuss the importance of keeping the area clean.  If that does not resolve the issue, pull the employee aside for a private one-on-one discussion about the complaints you’ve been hearing about the employees failure to keep a tidy work area.  This is also something that can be addressed in the company handbook, and if so, point out the specific section to the employee during your discussion with them.

Host an Office Clean-Up Day

Unfortunately, an employees lack of cleanliness can negatively impact the health of others in the office.  if the messiness extends beyond paper clutter and includes nasty old food containers or spilled substances, the issue must be immediately addressed.  Explain to the employees that these types of messes can attract bugs, rodents, as well as cause unpleasant odors that affect everyone.
If multiple work areas have reached a point beyond what can be handled with a small amount of work, schedule an office clean-up day.  Make it a fun day, play music, bring in food for lunch and allow employees to wear casual and comfy clothes.  At the end of the day, you’ll have a clean office and a bunch of employees who had a fun day.


Messy employees can disrupt the office, causing complaints and potential work hazards. With tactful handling, you can deal with the issue without offending employees or further disrupting productivity.  Do you have any horror stories or fun ways to get employees to keep a clean work environment?  We’d love to hear them in the comments.

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