Employee Organization: Get Rid of Coworker Clutter

How to encourage tidy habits in your workplace.

Over time, workplaces can accumulate a lot of clutter. Random coffee mugs from home have crowded in the breakroom cupboard; food marked "Do not throw away!" has been in the fridge for months; drawers are stuffed with ketchup packets, chopsticks and other items. And that's just one room — other common areas and plenty of coworkers' desks have gotten painfully messy, too.

As an office manager who cares about keeping a tidy workplace, your instinct is to toss out items and start dropping some serious hints to the coworkers who keep their desks in disarray. But as the resident office diplomat, you know this is likely to ruffle some feathers.

A middle ground may be possible, however. Here three steps to boost employee organization:

Have a Cleanup Day for Common Areas

Set aside a Friday afternoon, bring cookies (or some other treat) and have a clean-out party in the breakroom. Spread the word that Friday is cleanup day, and that any unclaimed food or personal items from the common areas will be up for grabs or headed for the trash at that time. The advance notice will give your coworkers plenty of time to claim what they want. Be sure to send several messages and post a sign on the fridge and cupboards on Monday — that way, no one can say they weren't warned. When Friday arrives, everyone can gather to claim items and dispose of whatever is left.

Give Employees Items to Help Encourage Tidiness

What makes an employee have a messy desk? Usually, it's because they don't mind the disorder, and they find that putting things away is too much effort. You can't fix the first issue, but you can help mitigate the second. Provide more desk boxes and cabinets for papers, coat hangers for personal items, and plenty of trash receptacles for individuals to stash or dispose of their stuff more easily. Your coworkers may not love tidiness for its own sake, but they may be persuaded to put their items out of sight if they can do so with a minimum of effort.

Also, provide cleaning supplies. Having the tools available may prompt coworkers to wipe down their desks, dust their monitors and get the crumbs out of their keyboards.

Make It Policy

If you don't have a housekeeping section in your employee handbook, instituting one can help create a fair, company-wide move toward tidiness, without singling out any individuals or placing the burden of cleanup on any one person — such as an overworked office manager, for instance. A simple policy may lay out rules for keeping workstations in good order and describe requirements for common areas as well. Talk to human resources or your manager about crafting the policy and bringing it to all employees' attention.

As a note of caution, be sure your housekeeping policy is not too stringent. Requiring employees to keep their desks completely free of clutter, for example, might actually hurt morale and productivity.

In the end, though, having a reasonable housekeeping policy in place can help politely nudge all workers to keep the space clean and lift some of the burden from your shoulders.

Office managers faced with a disorderly workplace don't have to get embroiled in drama. Offering opportunities to clean up and making all measures company-wide can help instigate change and ensure that no one employee feels blamed for not doing their part.