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Surprising Ways a Clean Desk Policy Will Protect Your Workplace

Posted November 19, 2015 by Lynn Brown

Clean Desk Policy Tips
Research has shown that a Clean Desk Policy is one of the simplest strategies a workplace can use to protect confidential data from information thieves.

But according to a psychological scientist at the University of Minnesota, a clean desk can also change a person’s behavior in ways that benefit the workplace.

In a psychologicalscience.org story, Kathleen Vohs said having a clean desk can have a positive impact on both behavior and intent.

Vohs cited research that showed working at a clean desk may promote healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality. But more importantly, “a clean setting leads people to do good things: not engage in crime, not litter, and show more generosity”.  

Of course, insider theft is a huge concern in the workplace today.

There’s also the aspect of improved job efficiency. While Albert Einstein said a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind, a Harvard Business Review story suggested quite the opposite. “People sitting at messy desks are less efficient, less persistent, and more frustrated and weary than those at neat desks.” In a study, those who had been exposed to a neat environment stuck with a work task for more than one and a half times as long as those exposed to a messy space.

At the same time, research has shown that the average desk worker spends about 2.5 hours a day searching for information.

How should you implement a Clean Desk Policy?

  • Create a written policy that clearly spells out requirements. For example, confidential information should not be left on the desk or screen in full view when not being used or when leaving the workstation. Remove all clutter (digitize information when possible) including post-it notes containing passwords, and schedule cleaning time. Lock up everything at the end of the day.
  • Include a list of items that are permitted. For example, phones, network connectivity devices, a pc/laptop, inbox/outbox, pens, and staplers can be left out.
  • Get everyone on board, including management. Post reminders in common areas, and explain the policy in newsletters and other communications, and during employee training.  
  • Physically support the policy. Lockable storage, routine backup for electronic documents, privacy screens for computers, and designated locked consoles (not open recycling bins), should be provided. Set up offices so computer screens aren’t easily visible by walkers-by.
  • Control access. All visitors must sign in and be accompanied by an employee. In a Ponemon study of visual hacking, researchers pretended to be temporary workers and wandered around 43 offices taking pictures and picking up documents. They were successful nine times out of 10 in stealing financial data, login credentials, and other confidential information.  
  • Partner with a trustworthy information destruction company that provides secure on- and off-site shredding of both paper and electronic data. In the Ponemon study, when workplaces had a document destruction policy, less information was visually hacked. Suspicious reporting processes and mandatory training also reduced theft.

Find out how a Shred-all policy works with a Clean Desk Policy to support compliance requirements and reduce the risk of a data breach.


Let Shred-it help keep your workplace secure.

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