How to Motivate Your Employees to Clean Up After Themselves

by Lisa McQuerrey - Updated September 26, 2017
Male office worker gathering spilt envelopes by stationery shelving

The condition of an office or place of business can impact how customers perceive your operation -- for better or worse. Workplace environment also can affect the mood and productivity of staff, making a clean, organized space all the more important. To get everyone on board the cleaning bus, involve employees and collectively develop motivating incentives and rewards for compliance.

Create Written Policies

Clearly spell out what is expected of employees so there’s no room for argument about what it means to “clean up after yourself.” Make a page for your employee manual, and distribute the same content in a general memo. Describe what you mean by a cleaned and organized workspace, and detail how food and dishes are to be handled in the break room. Also outline how shared workspace is to be used and maintained and what the results will be if directives aren’t followed. This might be a friendly reminder for the first offense or a formal reprimand for continued lack of cooperation.

Customize Incentives and Rewards

Once you’re clear about how you want cleanup handled, motivate employees to follow through by offering rewards and incentives to encourage participation from everyone. Involve staff in generating ideas to ensure you’re offering something people want. For example, if the office makes it through an entire week with a clean break room at the end of each day, bring in doughnuts Monday morning. Create friendly competition between departments by offering an extra long lunch break to the division that has the tidiest cubicles each week. Consider a sizable reward, like regularly handing out “clean desk” tickets that go into a quarterly cash prize drawing.

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Explain Your Rationale

Encourage employees by explaining how their cooperation, or lack thereof, affects the company. For example, “Several clients commented on the dirty coffee cups in the conference room last week. Lack of attention to those details makes our company look sloppy and can have a negative impact on what we each earn.” Also highlight the burden employees put on co-workers when they don’t cooperate. Consider a role-playing activity at a staff meeting to emphasize your points -- for example, someone not being able to find an important document because of a messy desk and losing a sale.

Hire Out the Big Jobs

Motivate staff by offering a compromise -- if they handle the small stuff, you’ll hire out the unsavory jobs like cleaning restrooms or mopping floors. Even better, if there are a few people in the office who seem to bear the burden of cleaning up after others, pay them for their efforts. This eliminates resentment between employees and gets the job handled on a regular basis.

Make it a Job Requirement

Maintaining a tidy work space is an element of job performance, just like coming to work on time. Emphasize its importance by making it part of regular performance reviews. Just as you might counsel an employee on improving communication skills or meeting sales quotas, discuss personal cleanup as well. Give employees constructive feedback on what needs to be done, such as taking out trash, removing old food from the shared refrigerator or washing and putting away dishes after use. If workers know leaving a messy trail could cost them a raise or promotion, they may be motivated to make cleaning more of a priority.

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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