Workplace Mess

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about clutter: The floors are covered with boxes and papers close to electrical outlets and blocking easy access in case of an emergency! How can this be safe?

I have noticed several work stations in my office that worry me. They are overflowing with paper, files, and boxes! The floors are covered with boxes and papers close to electrical outlets and blocking easy access in case of an emergency! How can this be safe? Everyday I wait to see if my co workers or someone walking by get hurt, since some of the papers and boxes are in the walk way. I have tried to “drop” hints such as “do you need some help getting organized?” “I almost tripped on your files out here? Or “co worker, are you in there?” I also worry about client confidentiality since the files are out in the open and not in filing cabinets. What can I do to help my coworkers see that this is not safe for anyone?

Signed, SOS Mess

Dear SOS Mess:

Congratulations! You are the kind of safety-minded employee that every organization needs. However, apparently your hints have had little effect. Soooo if you mean business you need to contact the shapers and movers in your workplace. That probably is a department manager. Check with Human Resources or Personnel if you don’t know to whom you should speak. But even before searching for someone with authority, put yourself in the shoes of those surrounded by boxes and filing cabinets. Would you want someone dropping hints or would you prefer that someone who thought you were working in a messy unsafe place would speak with you candidly? Would you want that individual to speak to you before she/he reported the mess to your supervisor?

Clutter is a habit and might be part of the culture of your workplace. Breaking bad habits takes courage and changing a culture takes a champion, or a fanatic for cleanliness and order. From what you say, I can’t know what is your role in your organization, but I assume you are not one assigned authority to make changes. However, you are not without influence.

A start might be to politely establish rapport with the one or more persons who are closest to the mess. Learn from them how they feel about their jobs. Do they feel swamped? Do they care how they are seen? Might they need and want someone like you to speak to their supervisor about getting clean-up help?

A more indirect and lasting approach might be to start on your own work area–Enlist coworkers on a beautification and quality improvement campaign. Take photos of the way it is in your area now and brainstorm how it could be more efficient and attractive. Could different configurations help cut wasted time and space? Could you have a paint party? Could art work and big plants change the culture? Create a beautification photo story board of what occurred each step along the way. I predict that beautification project would be contagious and slop over, no that is not the right word, overflow to messy paper cluttered work stations. What do you think? Safety comes first. Beauty begs for order. Where you are committed to both of these ends you will find that working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden