Clean Desk Policies: Are They Restricting Your Employees Creativity?

I was recently doing some research after a discussion amongst the team. We had moved to a new office and were developing an Office Etiquette guide. One of the items that had so many mixed opinions was the ‘Clean Desk Policy’ that many companies implement. Some love a clean, organised desk while others feel like they work better having a messy, unstructured desk.

I came across an article from the Sydney Morning Herald ( that devilled into this a bit! There was a study done my Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs which found that “you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting”.

Some of the interesting results when participants given a task to create a new use for a ping pong ball, the messy room participants came up with many more interesting and creative ideas rather their clean room counterparts.

When they tested this with the Myers Briggs Personality Profile, messy desk people are more likely to be “perceiving”. They are comfortable with chaos, are creative and are more comfortable in unstructured environments. Clean desk people are more likely to be “judging”, those who love structure, organisation and planning.

Personally, I am definitely a clean desk person. I feel more organised and in control in an uncluttered environment. As the paper starts building on my desk my stress levels rise. I much prefer neat piles and most things put away out of sight. I have colleagues that do prefer a messy desk and seem to strive in that workspace. They cringe and protest when I announce it time for a desk tidy up!

From this research I have done, I think it best to assume that a bit of flexibility needs to be given when it comes to getting the best out of your employees and the conditions of their desk. By implementing a standard ‘Clean Desk’ Policy you may be limiting some of your employees creativity and their ability to think about the box – so it might be time to rethink what you do and don’t allow!

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