Addressing a Messy Work Station to an Employee

Messy desks invite judgment from co-workers.
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Some say that a messy desk is a sign of genius, but many people find it distracting, even if the desk belongs to an employee or co-worker. If you have an employee whose desk looks like a hoarder's house, confront her respectfully and offer support for getting her workspace in shape.

Do Some Research

    Before talking to your employee, check out some organizational resources. Look for articles, books and local courses on organizing work areas and scheduling time for workspace clean-up. As you read through the material, highlight sections that you think might be especially useful. If your employee has a difficult time managing paperwork or has a lot of technology in her cube, scour office supply catalogs and websites for practical desk accessories. Being prepared for the meeting with resources will not only make things flow easier; it also shows that you care about your employee and want to help her.


    Don't reprimand an employee in front of co-workers. Meet privately, perhaps for lunch or coffee, to discuss the situation. Explain that in a professional environment, cleanliness and neatness are important. If you think it appropriate, you can also mention that co-workers often make negative judgments about people with messy desks. Don't get personal: Instead, frame the discussion as concern for the office community as well as for your employee's career.


    Pay attention to what your employee has to say about the situation. She may feel defensive, so take the time to hear her out and let her know that you want to help. She may also have concerns about the condition of her workspace as well as her own organizational skills, so be encouraging. Show her the resources that you identified earlier and suggest that these can be super-helpful getting her desk back into shape.

Practical Support

    Hard-working employees often have messy desks because they have to deal with a lot of paperwork. Tell your employee that you realize she's swimming in paper and that you know she needs help sorting it out. Show her your office supply catalog finds and offer to approve the purchase of any desk organizing tools that will make her job easier. If the employee points out that she doesn't have enough space for necessary equipment and paperwork, look into moving her to a new cubicle or finding her more space in your office file cabinets.

Office Culture

    Work with upper management or the company owner to address tidiness in your entire office. Keep the office break room stocked with paper towels, dusters and spray bottles of all-purpose cleaner. Encourage employees to develop the habit of tidying and cleaning their desks at the end of the workday. You can even hold occasional desk-cleaning parties by playing music, bringing in food, and providing dumpsters so that people can get rid of large quantities of useless files and other trash.

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