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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Workplace doctor: cleanliness is next to work success

An unhygienic workplace can have an adverse effect on staff and although the consequences are gradual, they are inevitable

A hygienic workplace is a major factor in employee wellbeing and lack of hygiene can seriously affect performace. Matt Cardy/Getty
A hygienic workplace is a major factor in employee wellbeing and lack of hygiene can seriously affect performace. Matt Cardy/Getty

I have been with my present employer as a department manager of logistics for six months now and I am becoming increasingly aware that my staff are very unhappy about having to share or borrow or bring equipment from home such as tablets, phones, calculators and even staplers and pens. In addition, the place where we work is not very clean and seems to be getting dirtier, which is also undermining the general atmosphere among my team. I have told senior management of my concerns but they seem to palm it off on to other departments such as maintenance and do not appear to be particularly bothered about it. Their offices, by contrast, are stocked with up-to-date equipment and are spotless. What can I do about this?

DB, Al AIn

Being provided with the right resources in a hygienic work environment is every employee’s right to effectively enable them to do their work. At the same time, if organisations expect employees to deliver and be held accountable for their performance, they must provide adequate resources to support this.

For some perspective, it may be useful to know that one of the largest, most reputable organisations in the region is equally slow in providing even their senior management with appropriate resources such as mobiles, laptops and internet connection at work. When employees do not have the correct resources available to them, or are expected to work in inadequately maintained environments, it can lead to inefficiency, poor work performance and disengagement.

Employee disengagement is any organisation’s worst scenario – it can spread like a virus and be difficult to contain and cure. According to Gallup’s 142-country study, The State of the Global Workplace, disengaged workers continue to outnumber engaged ones at a rate of nearly 2-to-1. Staff who are unhappy are unlikely to contribute positively or effectively and the consequences of their negativity are alarming. Gallup’s findings show that an essential way to help improve engagement is to focus on employees’ well-being.

One of the largest factors in employee well-being is the physical work environment. A clean, neat and tidy workspace is likely to increase overall productivity, engagement, morale and happiness. On the other hand, an unhygienic workplace as you are describing above, can have an adverse effect on staff and although the consequences are gradual, they are inevitable.

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Studies have shown how physical environments impact our psychological wellbeing, both directly and indirectly. The workplace was one of the most significant environments to be studied, and given the considerable amount of time we spend at work, it is easy to see that it can affect our psyche if it is poorly maintained.

Our sensory stimulation - what we hear, see, smell, touch and taste impacts our perception of our physical surroundings. Being surrounded by a dirty, smelly and disorderly environment will leave staff with little aspiration to make an effort to perform, affecting morale and increasing staff turnover. Staff health can be impacted through both the exposure to germs and an increase in injuries as a result of a cluttered workspace. Employees are likely to become less focused on the team overall and be more concerned about how to make things better for themselves. Over time, this can be tremendously costly to the organisation.

On the other hand, a clean workplace has an immediately positive effect. Less time is taken off during work due to sickness and injuries, productivity improves and stress is reduced overall. It is much more cost-effective to ensure a clean environment than it is to deal with the long-term implications of a dirty one.

The difference in office setting between senior management and the general workforce are equally well known. In fact, the "corner office" or a reserved parking in front of the building are often high motivators for others to achieve similar status symbols and luxury allocations.

So, what may this require from you to move towards a more positive outcome for your staff? Consider the impact the lack of resources and unclean environment is having on your staff and how you can best influence senior management to appreciate the potential long-term implications of this on the organisation itself, creating an impetus for them to act on it.

Doctor’s prescription:

It is also worth reflecting on how your team can succeed in spite of the lack of current support. Referring back to the earlier example of senior managers in a reputable organisation, despite their lack of the basic means to undertake their jobs, these individuals are still achieving exceptional results. In their case, they have chosen to have the wherewithal to transcend their challenges and still succeed, despite their constraints. Encouraging resilience, determination, resourcefulness and drive within your direct reports is an important leadership capability in helping them to make the best of their current situation.