How hoarding behaviour at home might affect your employees’ working lives

Megan Karnes
Megan Karnes

Founder of HoardingUK

We ask Megan Karnes, founder of HoardingUK, for information and advice on helping employees who may be hoarders, or who might live with someone who experiences hoarding.


Hoarding is a complex and co-morbid mental health condition impacting between 2-5% of the population. Help for Hoarders, a website set up by our Patron Jasmine Harman, estimates that up to three million people in the UK are impacted. Hoarding behaviour is characterised by people experiencing overwhelming distress when trying to throw items away (regardless of their monetary value). It is caused by a range of issues including trauma​Just B counselling and trauma phone helpline Web page If you'd like to talk to someone about what you're going through as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hospice UK have created a free phone line for frontline workers, staffed by Just B.Free By: Hospice UK / Dying Matters View resource or anxiety, which fuel dysfunctional coping mechanisms – such as compulsive acquisition. This combination in substantial difficulty in organisational and decision-making skills – which result in self-harm (both intentional and unintentional) due to the person living in unsafe environments and, in extreme cases, completely uninhabitable homes (DSM-V, 2013 and ICD-11, 2018).

A home with a pile of objects outside.A home with a pile of objects outside.A home with a pile of objects outside.

Most people who hoard would not be identifiable in the workplace. In fact, they would likely be high performers who are well respected by their colleagues. In terms of signs to look out for, perfectionism can lead to a backlog in work. Unable to complete tasks to their own exacting levels, this can result in work being put aside to review or redo. People with hoarding behaviour may struggle to let go of things at the office such as papers and recycling. Office clean days and moves can be particularly challenging. Panic, both visible and invisible can be experienced in such situations. Paying attention to wellbeing alongside office tidiness can be a good first start.

However, unless the hoarding is impacting the office e.g. the person with hoarding behaviour is impacting colleagues or office spaces – it’s unlikely an employer would know that there is an issue.

If there are issues that come into awareness, the most important thing is to ask about providing support, not to pursue enforcement without engagement. These practices have led to psychological crisis in people with hoarding behaviour.

Many find they are considered ineligible for help

Both people who hoard and those who care for them have rights under the Care Act (2014) (and relevant legislation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). This means that people who hoard, with or without clinical recognition, now have recognition of hoarding itself as a social care need. As over 90% of people who hoard have other issues, including mental and physical health​Complexities and challenges: working with multiple health conditions PDF This report explores the impact of managing multiple health conditions, both for the individual and the employer.Free By: The Work Foundation View resource, they – and the people who support them – can tick all the boxes. Despite this, due to the complexity of the system, many find they are considered ineligible for help.

A man surrounded by boxes is experiencing stress.

As an employer, if you learn someone in your organisation is affected by hoarding, you should offer them the same level of respect and care as any employer would provide for any member of their team. While the anxiety and distress in hoarding behaviour are significant, it is the duty of every employer to ensure safe environments. Of course, this is relevant to desks and belongings but also to wellbeing and support. If this were common practice, so many people who are struggling – openly or in secret – would be empowered to reach their potential, instead of being excluded as a result of their struggles.

And if you know someone affected by hoarding personally, then the instinct often is to ‘do’- e.g. remove and reorganise. While instinctively this seems to be a solution, it is actually counterproductive. Instead, reach out to the person, trying to empower them to change, versus focusing on the space only.

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