x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Workplace doctor: Showing colleagues the error of messy ways

The workplace doctor tackles an untidy desk overflowing with old documents, manuals, management books and used crockery.

I like to work in a clean and tidy office, however, many of colleagues do not share this view. Instead they pile up their desks with old work documents, manuals, management books, used crockery and general clutter to the point they are almost impossible to see behind all the mayhem. This level of untidiness attracts dust and I’m sure ants and other insects looking to feast on their leftovers. How can I communicate to my colleagues that they need to tidy their desks? BC, Sharjah

The key to influencing others is not in telling, but rather in providing value that could be created from tidying up. If you are wondering what that might mean, let me remind you of a story that may sound familiar, to help the meaning emerge. Cast your mind back to a broken record of your childhood, with your mother telling you to clean your room – the more it was said, the more it was ignored. Need I say any more BC?

I totally agree that this type of clutter will only produce chaos and mayhem, both physically and mentally. I do hope this space is a non client-facing one. Offices can have productive ‘mess’ yet yours sounds more like clutter purely because of its longevity in the one place, and piles simply getting higher and dirtier by the day. This type of purpose only serves to slow down processes, reduce efficiencies, appear downright ugly and be a breeding ground for little ‘nasties’. So the trick is to demonstrate value in not having those challenges on a daily basis. Just how to achieve that may stretch you.

I was in an office that astounded me only this past week in fact. It was so clean it almost appeared vacant. Yet for the office’s tenant, this is a mainstay of his behaviour; he simply cannot work if the environment is not precise, organised and controlled. I’m wondering what might happen if you could somehow have your colleagues view an office like that. Invite them over, knowing full well that they would get a shock and likely make jovial verbal references to it, yet at least this way you would have a template to refer back to. Even better, if a person like my gentleman host was in the office, he could defend the advantages he gets from it.

From there, perhaps orchestrate the need for a specific document that you know will see the untidy offender turning the office upside down in a panic when they cannot find it.Ensure it’s one that will make or break a big contract – this will surely demonstrate the importance of filing, ready-reference and organisation. Let them feel the panic and guilt until you then put them out of their misery, with the lesson clear in their minds.

How about introducing a YouTube ‘pick of the week’ where once a week everybody in the office has to show a chosen YouTube video and tell them why it was chosen. You would be wise to invest time in finding one with the biggest, scariest message about dust mites, food leftovers and degradation in general, and then link it back to how you yourself don’t want to suffer any of that due to the habits of others. Naturally you would need to mould this experience according to the types of personalities in your workplace.

But then again, have we missed a basic idea? Why not set up a ‘clean-up Saturday’, where people come in on their day off. Yes, lunch will be provided yet no one goes until everything is on shelves, in order and easily accessible.

So BC, how will you provide the real showstopper – that being the value of de-cluttering and support the words of Laotse ‘He who hoards much, loses much’?

Doctor’s Prescription

Apply the lessons from the Chinese proverb: “Tell someone, and he’ll forget, show someone and he’ll remember, do with someone and he’ll understand.”

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights