Cleanliness and Productivity
Soft Work Environment

Cleanliness and Productivity
Small things that can make a big difference

August 29, 2022

What is it about a tidy bed that makes you sleep deeper, or an uncluttered desk that makes work more enjoyable? The answer is simple: a tidy space removes the one barrier there is to using it effectively; cleaning it. One’s physical work environment is a big factor in workplace productivity.

Breaking it down

The work environment is made up of numerous factors that span all the way from software quality to cleanliness. Just one snag in any of these could alter work effectiveness drastically. Not only does the workspace inform performance and creativity, it provides enough comfort to get the work done. An office can have as many bathrooms, fancy desks, or gym facilities in the world, but what’s the point if dirt and clutter render them useless?

Sick days cost businesses $225.8 billion annually in the United States, $1685 per employee. By keeping the work environment clean, fewer days may be lost to preventable illness.¹ Chaotic spaces distract employees and unclean conditions spread bacteria. Two-thirds of respondents in an important study believed they’d contracted illness from a colleague, with about 43% describing it as flu. Despite concerns about falling ill, respondents neglected basic steps to prevent the spread. About one-fifth said they’d gone an entire workday without washing hands at least once in the last month.² Think about that next time you shake hands!

Cleanliness isn’t just health related; it is also a social tool. 62% of respondents in the aforementioned study said they judge their co-workers based on the neatness of their workspace and hygiene. It seems office workers regularly judge the hygiene of their peers and are far less vigilant about themselves. Both men and women cleaned items they regularly touched (like mouses and keyboards) only once or twice a month.

Average monthly times respondents clean each office item

Another interesting way to look at cleanliness is equating it with safety. The cleaner your workspace and office facilities, the less likely you are to fall sick. Feeling unsafe and uncomfortable at work also lowers productivity. A lot of time may be spent trying to protect oneself from disease and staying calm instead of working. This may manifest itself in avoiding co-workers or feeling antsy in a crowded meeting room.

How to clean up

The research is all there. Cleanliness affects productivity in the form of physical sickness and mental distraction. Businesses that want to make quick gains from small changes should invest in workplace hygiene. Where do they start?

1. Create a maintenance plan

Break down cleaning tasks into subtasks to be achieved in a day or a week. This lessens the burden employees and cleaning staff may feel when tackling untidiness. For example:

Daily: sanitise desk and empty waste bin Weekly: wipe down keyboard, mouse and frequently used stationary

2. Designate regular spring-cleaning days

Make it social. Designate bi-monthly spring-cleaning days with snacks. Making an otherwise tedious activity into a social one forces everyone to participate (and have fun) by default.

3. Make cleaning products accessible

Hiring a janitor isn’t enough. Employees need to be given the right tools to maintain their own workspace. For example, disinfectant sprays and towels can be kept in accessible drawers for regular desk cleaning. Installing sanitiser dispensers around the office, providing antibacterial soap and sanitary napkins can also help curb the spread of germs.

4. Tie cleanliness to safety

Circulating regular memos around the office about hygiene expectations and increasing safety. Companies can have regular safety checks per department and reward the cleanest one. This makes employees feel like they are being taken care of by their organisation, while also promoting friendly conversation.

SHAPE’s Physical Work Environment Explorer is entirely dedicated to the productivity and comfort of employees in their workspace. Accompanying Best Practice guidelines help optimise this to build a healthier, happier office.


¹Contact Claire Stinson cstinson@cdcfoundation.org 404.443.1126, Contact Claire Stinson & Stinson, C., 2015. Worker illness and injury costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually. CDC Foundation. Available at: https://www.cdcfoundation.org/pr/2015/worker-illness-and-injury-costs-us-employers-225-billion-annually [Accessed July 25, 2022].

²Anon, Exploring workplace hygiene: The shocking truth. Joblist. Available at: https://www.joblist.com/trends/exploring-workplace-hygiene [Accessed July 22, 2022].

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