Is a clean and clear workspace good for your mental health?

You may have heard the old saying that a tidy desk is a sign of a tidy mind. You may have wondered just how true it is. After all, everybody’s an individual. Some people love clear surfaces. Others find them clinical. The truth is that clean and clear workspaces really are good for people’s mental health. Here’s what you need to know. 

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Everybody has a breaking point

Every single person in the whole world has a point at which an excess of anything becomes overwhelming. As soon as something becomes overwhelming, it has a negative impact on a person’s mental health.

One of the benefits of working from home is that people can set up their own workspaces exactly how they like them. Communal workspaces, by contrast, need to work to a combination of the law and common denominators. This typically means aiming for a clean and clear workspace in general while allowing a time and a place for acceptable clutter.

The law and workplace organisation

There are three main areas of the law that should have a strong influence on workplace organisation. The first is health and safety law. Clean and clear workplaces tend to be the healthiest and the safest for all kinds of reasons.

At a practical level, keeping a workplace clean protects against the issues that come with a lack of hygiene. Keeping working areas clear also reduces hazards to people in the area (including any non-employees). Clean and clear workspaces are also less likely to trigger or exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety.

The second is security, both physical and digital. The more cluttered your workplace is, the more cover there is for malicious actors. Part of the reason for this is that clutter (physical or digital) makes it harder to keep track of items. This means it can take much longer to spot that items are not where they should be. It can take even longer to determine if they are lost (or stolen) or just mislaid.

The third is the Equality Act 2010. Employees with some recognised medical conditions may need clean, clear and ordered surroundings to feel secure at work. Failing to provide these conditions could potentially give rise to a discrimination claim.

Workplace organisation and employee mental health

Even without the law, it makes sense for employers to ensure that workplaces are kept clean and clear. Very few people thrive on permanently high levels of clutter. Most people need a reasonable level of cleanliness and clear space in order to feel comfortable at work.

If employers don’t provide this, their employees’ mental health may suffer. Alternatively, they may simply go and look for employment somewhere the working environment suits them better. They may also adjust their working activities to reflect their discomfort with their working environment. For example, they may try to avoid bringing clients to the office.

As a final point, it’s also worth noting that clean and clear workspaces tend to be the places where it’s easiest to be productive. This means that they give employees the best opportunity of doing everything they need to do in the time allocated for them to do it.

If employees are hindered by an unclean and/or disorganised working environment, they may become stressed and/or resentful. They are also likely to become demotivated. After all, if they perceive that their employer does not care about working standards, then why should they?

Clear Desk The practicalities of clean and clear workspaces

In the real world, very few, if any, workspaces are dirty and/or cluttered because people want them to be that way. They become dirty and cluttered through poor management. The issue can then become compounded over time as it grows and becomes harder to deal with. If that sounds familiar (or if you want to avoid it happening to you), here are some tips to help.

Allow zones for clutter

Some people do need to be allowed to create a certain level of clutter (and/or dirt) to be able to function. This is particularly true of creatives. One effective way to deal with this is to give these employees a zone where they can create their clutter.

Set down rules for how messy they can get and how long the clutter can be allowed to stand. Provide easy solutions to keep their clutter within limits. For example, if employees are physically building models, give them storage boxes to put them in between uses.

Get rid of as much paper as you can

Paper has long been one of the biggest sources of clutter in workspaces. If your processes are still based on the use of paper, then it’s time to update them as much as you can. Paper may still be the medium of choice for some demographic groups (e.g.,  older people). It can also still have its uses in some situations. For the most part, however, it’s time to get rid of it.

If you still have paper files, then digitise them and/or move them off-site. If you receive a lot of deliveries with cardboard packaging, then put items away quickly and move the packaging to the recycling area.

Eliminate cables and cords whenever possible

There are definitely still advantages to using cords. In smaller workspaces, however, these are often counterbalanced by the issue of cable clutter. Generally speaking, therefore, it makes sense to go cordless as much as you can.

Have different types of storage

Closed storage is generally the default in workplaces and for good reason. There can, however, also be a place for other types of storage.

For example, you could use open-topped baskets on open shelves to keep items corralled but easily accessible. Pegboards keep items visible but organised. Translucent containers provide closed storage but still let people find items quickly. These, and other solutions, can all play a useful role in modern workplaces.

Give employees time to tidy up

This may seem like stating the obvious but it’s actually very important. If you simply give employees time to do their exact job and no more, you can expect dirt and clutter to build up. You need to incorporate time for them to clean and tidy after themselves if you want to keep a clean and clear workspace.