Workplace Clutter

Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Published Online: Friday, May 31, 2013
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Keeping your pharmacy clear of clutter is key to maintaining productivity and morale.

The average employee wastes 2 to 4 hours each week looking for things they need to do their work—manuals that aren’t on the shelf where they expect them to be, documents that are piled in “horizontal files,” and supplies that have been misplaced. Most employees find this frustrating, and all employees suffer reduced productivity when they are forced to interrupt their work to search for something they need to continue. Workplace clutter is also a leading cause of on-the-job injury, as well as a fire hazard.
 
Employees differ in their organizational skills and their tolerance for clutter. Although most pharmacies strive for high levels of organization and have high cleanliness standards, over time entropy may prevail. Outright clutter can gain ground throughout the workplace. Alternatively, everything (lots of everything) may be in its particular place—a kind of organized clutter that can be maddening. Either way, a failure to purge old or unneeded documents and journals, broken equipment, or outdated items can create clutter at a less obvious level.
 
Most people find clutter distracting and find that it lowers productivity and morale. Workplace clutter can also have financial repercussions. Staff members who cannot locate a given item may unnecessarily re-order it. These additional, unneeded items just add more clutter to the workspace, consume space meant for something else, and increase business operating expenses. Some employees are pack rats, and save things because they think they may need them later or because they feel discarding them would be wasteful.
 
Managers need to address workplace clutter in 2 phases. In Phase 1, the Acute Clean-Up, managers should organize a floor-to-ceiling cleaning. Ask staff to identify areas where clutter is the biggest concern, and start with those areas. Work with staff to create long- and short-term goals. Be sure to identify a date by which objects in each area will be sorted and reorganized. Establish specific ground rules about what to keep and what to eliminate; most employees will appreciate it if you recycle as much clutter as possible. Telling staff that magazines and journals older than 1 year need to be recycled is likely to be more effective than telling them they can only keep 12 issues of any publication—in the latter case, the employee with emotional ties to clutter will struggle to decide which 12 issues are most important. In addition, establish a process to be used if an employee isn’t sure what to do with something (eg, items that are unnecessary but seem to have notable historic or financial value).
 
During slow times, employees can purge and deep clean. Consider hiring temporary help if your organization is always busy. Just a few minutes a day can help produce a much less cluttered space. Note that hoarders are prone to false starts and their efforts to reduce clutter may fizzle out over time, so keep an eye on them to ensure consistent progress.
 
Once the deep clean is complete, Phase 2—Maintenance—begins. Remind employees to clean as they go by breaking down empty boxes, discarding outdated or empty supplies, and removing broken items. Emphasize keeping aisles and exits clear for safety reasons. Use paint to mark these areas and tell employees that everything must be stored behind the lines. Hiring cleaning personal with clear guidelines about what needs to be done daily, weekly, and monthly is important. So is identifying staff with poor organizational skills and providing training that can help them learn better habits.
 
Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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