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Does Your Messy Desk Mean You’re a Creative Genius?

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What does your desk say about you? And no, I don’t mean behind your back.

A messy desk is apparently a sign of a creative person who doesn’t follow convention.

Geniuses were associated with having a cluttered desk, as seen in the 19th century portrait of Samuel Johnson.

If a messy desk is better, should your business have a clean desk policy?


What is a Clean Desk Policy?

A clean desk policy is a written document that states employees’ obligations in regard to their desk, i.e., keeping it clean. It can also be called a clean desk and clean screen policy.

The clean desk policy should cover both workers in a company office and remote workers and should be available to all employees with the rest of your procedures.

As well as the written policy you could create a more visual policy such as a poster.


Clean Desk Policy Examples

A clean desk policy should include the purpose of the policy, why the policy is needed, how to keep a clean desk, and how it will be enforced.

The Hubspot clean desk policy shows the typical format with a standard set of rules.


Why do you Need a Clean Desk Policy?

There’s always one colleague whose desk has empty bottles, piles of documents, or post-it notes littering it, which can be annoying to other staff.

A clean desk policy is to primarily to ensure information is secure. But it is also about keeping a hygienic workplace, increasing productivity, and creating a pleasant work environment.




Implementing a Clean Desk Policy

There are many ways you can put a clean desk policy in place such as:

  • First creating a physical clean desk policy
  • Communicating with managers about the clean desk policy
  • Put up clean desk signs to notify staff
  • Provide the appropriate resources
  • Send a clean desk memo or email letting all staff know about the new policy.


Even if you have staff working from home, you can let them know the clean desk policy also applies to them.


How to Enforce a Clean Desk Policy

  1. Communication

To enforce a clean desk policy, you should ensure you have thoroughly communicated to all staff about its implementation.

  1. Appoint Clean Desk Monitor

It is a good idea to have someone or a team responsible for monitoring the clean desk policy. This could be volunteers or the department managers.

  1. Create a Crisis Strategy Plan

You should ensure you also have a crisis strategy plan in place, should your clean desk policy fail, and information is accessed.

  1. Clean Desk Audit

A clean desk audit can be carried out randomly to check employees are adhering to it. Some offices leave notes to staff advising on where they could improve or a present like a bag of sweets, for those who have passed.

  1. Give Prizes for Clean Desks

You could also motivate employees by creating a clean desk award. This could be given to an employee or team who abide by the clean desk policy. They could be given a prize like cupcakes and a clean desk award certificate.

  1. Create Tidy Days

You could also hold Tidy Tuesdays, or another day allocated to making sure the workplace is tidy. This could be done on the first Tuesday of every month.

  1. Provide Resources

You should provide the facilities to keep a tidy office and desk such as lockable file cabinets, shredders, or hire a confidential waste contractor.

  1. Employee Monitoring Software

For those who are working from home, you could use employee monitoring software to ensure they are keeping documents secure while remote working.


3 Ps of Office Organisation

There are a few different organisation techniques to try to ensure your workplace is kept tidy.

The 3 P’s system stands for plan, protect, and pick up.



In the morning take a few minutes to plan and organise your workload. Only print things you have to or take out files that can’t be accessed on your computer.  



When you leave your desk make sure any documents are locked away, don’t bring documents with you in case you lose them, and make sure your computer screen is turned off and password protected.


Pick up

When you are going home, take a few moments to put everything away. Throw any rubbish in the bin or dispose of it in the shredder. Put away all documents and files and remove any other clutter that isn’t necessary.




Benefits of a Clean Desk Policy

Simply by encouraging a clean desk policy your business could benefit by:

  • Reducing costs
  • Prevent security breaches
  • Prevents theft
  • Becoming more sustainable
  • Better impression for customers
  • Improving staff’s mental health
  • Improving productivity
  • Creating a healthier workplace


Reducing Costs

A messy office can lead to higher sickness rates which increases costs, having to pay sick leave and possibly pay agency staff to cover them.

A messy desk could lead to theft or security issues which can lead to higher costs and fines.

Businesses could lose £77 billion a year due to decreased productivity, with staff coming in to work when they’re sick and not performing.

A clean desk policy could help prevent these costs.


Clean Desks Prevent Security Breaches

We’ve all heard horror stories where companies have released thousands or millions of confidential customer data.

Whether it is through carelessness or malice, there are many cases of confidential information being made public.

Insider-related incidents cost $15.38 million in 2021 according to the Cost of Insider Threats Global Reports by the Ponemon Institute.

In January 2020, hackers breached the systems of Marriott Hotels and Resorts. The hackers had access to seven million guest records of people in the UK, including their contact information and passport details.

Due to failing to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Marriott were fined £18.4 million because they didn’t put safeguards in place.

When this happens to a company, it discourages customers from using them because they don’t trust their information will be safe.



Office Theft on the Rise

Under the banner of security, is the issue of theft. Not necessarily of documents (although this can be the case), but of office supplies.

Non-cash thefts including items like pencils increased from 10.6% in 2002 to 21% in 2018.

Managers may have to order up to 20% more office supplies than necessary because of theft, which may be prevented by a clean desk policy. 

Once an employee makes a small theft, it can snowball, according to David Welsh, Business Professor at Arizona State University.


Becoming More Sustainable

By printing less documents, you will save paper and decrease waste. Customers and workers are more attracted to green businesses. Incorporating green business practices, you not only help the planet, but create a positive impact.


Better Impression for Customers

If your business is customer facing, then a messy office could create a bad impression.

Untidy workspaces can mean customers or managers perceive you as being disorganised. If customers think you’re disorganised, then why would they want to do business with you? If your customers see a messy desk they might think if they can’t be bothered to clean their desk, what else can’t they be bothered to do.

A clean desk policy gives a good impression to anyone in your workplace, showing you to be disciplined, organised, and professional.

Whether you need to impress customers, new staff, or investors, a tidy office can create the right image for your business.


Improving Employee Mental Health

Cleaning provides a rush of adrenaline which improves your mood. It can give peace of mind and a sense of control.

A study found women who felt their living spaces were cluttered were more likely to be tired and depressed.

People with cleaner homes tend to be healthier too.


Improving Productivity

Sickness absence can cause the loss of 30.4 days of productivity.

Clutter from office desks can also decrease productivity. A study by Princeton University discovered clutter can make it hard to concentrate and complete tasks.

Having a clean desk also means you’ll find things quicker and are less likely to lose items. One in five employees admitted their untidy desk resulted in them losing an item of financial value.

It’s not just the person with the messy desk that could decrease productivity, but it could also affect other staff. One in four staff said a messy colleague had a negative impact on their productivity with 41% believing a tidy workspace enhanced productivity.


Clean Desks Can Lead to Promotions

It sounds crazy but one in ten bosses admitted a messy desk would stop them promoting an employee. This could be because those with messy desks are viewed by many as being disorganised, struggling with their workload, and not taking pride in their work.

They may not be wrong because clutter was the best predictor of procrastination according to one study.


Creating a Healthier Workplace

Many workers catch illnesses at work. Around 93,000 workers believe they caught Covid in their workplace.

It’s no surprise when some office items are up to three times dirtiest than a toilet seat.

Items such as the office door handles, office kitchen sink, and computer keyboard are among the dirtiest items in your office.

Not only can the items in your office increase sickness among staff but indoor air pollution can be up to five times worse than outside air.


Clean Desk v Messy Desk

While there is lots of studies to show that a clean desk helps increase productivity, reduce sickness, and lots of other great benefits, there are also studies that show otherwise.

Alex Haslam and Craig Knight of University of Exeter undertook a study in 2010 to see how an office affected how much people got done and how they felt about it.

The ‘empowered office’ had the best results. The empowered office was one with plants, prints, and the participants could design themselves.



Participants got 30% more done in the empowered office than in the lean office which was simple and tidy. They also loved the empowered office and hated the lean one.

The conclusion was that decorations like plants or pictures tended to make people feel happier and be more productive. When workers designed their own space, it showed the best results.

Robert Sommer, a psychologist at the University of California reported that trivial freedoms, such as being able to paint your own wall in your office, helped people create personal space which made them happier and more productive.


Another study threw the theory of a tidy desk, tidy mind, out the window.

Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist at the University of Minnesota, found those with messy desks were more creative.

While a clean desk did promote healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality, Vohs said, “We found, however, that you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting.”

Those in a messy office, when given the opportunity, donated more of their money to charity and were more likely to pick a healthy snack.

They also had more interesting and creative ideas and preferred to choose a new product rather than an established one.

This showed that those in a messy room are more likely to break from convention while those in a clean office are more likely to do as expected.

A Frontiers in Psychology study, however, found that when trying to replicate Kathleen’s study, they didn’t get the same results. They found there was no difference to creativity whether a desk was messy or clean.


Tips to Keep a Clean Desk

  • At the end of day take a few moments to clear up
  • Use a desk tidy
  • Develop the habit of tidying your desk daily
  • Don’t print out anything you don’t need to
  • Personalise your desk to keep you motivated
  • Keep antibacterial wipes on your desk to remind you to regularly wipe surfaces.


How Often Should you Clean Your Desk?

Tidying your desk on a daily basis means it won’t take long to have a clean desk.

You should give your desk a wipe down every other day and a more thorough clean, once a week.

If you are sharing a desk or you are in an office where there’s flexible seating arrangement, then you should clean the desk every day.


How to Clean Your Desk

Firstly, get everything off your desk. Go through all your items and throw out any you don’t need.

To disinfect your office desk, give your desk a spray with some antibacterial spray such as Zidac Laboratories multipurpose surface disinfectant. Spray onto the surface and leave for up to five minutes to give the spray ‘kill time’.

Then use a microfibre cloth to wipe the spray over the surface of your desk. A microfibre cloth is best because it reduces bacteria by 99% compared to cotton.


How to Clean Desk Chair

Bacteria and viruses can be brought back from the toilet and stay on desks and chairs and be infectious for 24 hours.

It’s no surprise then that there’s 21,000 germs per square inch on chairs, desks, and keyboards.

To clean your desk chair, give it a wipe down with an antibacterial wipe, such as Ultra Grime antibacterial and virucidal surface wipes. You could also sprinkle the fabric with baking soda to remove odours.


How to Clean Your Mouse Pad

Submerge your mouse pad in cold water and hand soap, and scrub with a soft brush. Using a hand wash such as Zidac Laboratories cleansing hand wash is gentler than using other cleaning products. The Zidac hand wash has antibacterial properties to reduce those germs.

After gently scrubbing, rinse your mouse pad and pat dry.



How to Clean a Desk Fan

A desk fan can get clogged with dust and then circulate this everywhere. You can use an air canister to get rid of as much dust as possible in those hard-to-reach spots.

Vinegar and soap together can spruce your desk fan up or use baking soda if you want to make it whiter.


How to Clean Desk Chair Cushion

Upholstery can carry different types of germs and can contain allergens. If you can’t remove your chair cushion cover, then sprinkle it with bicarbonate of soda and leave overnight. Vacuum it off the next day. Bicarbonate of soda neutralises odours and acts as a mild abrasive.


How to Clean Your Phone

Many people, 35%, admitted to browsing the internet on their phone while on the loo. This leads to cross-contamination because there can be up to 26% of faecal bacteria present on your hands.

Whether it is a mobile or land line, your phone is a high-touch area that could be a bacteria hotspot.

To clean you phone, wipe down with an antibacterial wipe. Make sure it’s not too damp or you might damage your phone.




How to Clean Headsets

Never share your headset because it can pass on ear infections and other bacteria.

Simply wipe down with a wet wipe to clean your headset and regularly change your ear covers.


How to Clean Your Keyboard

Your keyboard or laptop keyboard could be 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat. The most common bacteria on office items are gram-positive cocci which is found in pneumonia.

Use an air canister to get debris from under the keys and then wipe with an antibacterial wipe.




Hiring a Cleaning Service

If your clean desk policy isn’t working quite as well as you want it to or you just want to make sure you have a hygienic workplace, then hiring a cleaning company is a great idea.

Cleaning companies can save you money by keeping your office consistently clean to prevent the spread of infections.

It also helps to encourage others to keep their desks and other areas tidy.

Choosing a cleaning service that is eco-friendly is a good idea to encourage sustainable business practices.

If your business is customer facing, seeing cleaning can attract more customers. Many consumers, up to 55%, want businesses to continue to have hygiene measures and one third are willing to pay a premium for sustainable brands and products.  


Sustainable Cleaning Products

A green cleaning service will also use environmentally friendly products which generally last longer, saving you money on cleaning supplies.

If you don’t use cleaners, then eco-friendly products are better for the health of employees who will be using them.


A clean desk policy is a great idea to ensure all employees keep a hygienic workplace, creating a healthier, more productive environment while reducing costs.

Make sure to allow staff to also add personal touches to their desk, so they will be happier working somewhere that is their own private space.


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