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November 2017

Top 5 cringe worthy office hygiene scenarios

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

The office. A place in which most of us spend more time than our own homes, and often filled with people with whom we would not ordinarily choose to spend time. Yet the modern office environment dictates that we work long hours in close (sometimes far too close; think open plan offices) proximity to people who may be virtual strangers.

Strangers who do not always share our beliefs  around what constitute acceptable workplace behaviour. The modern office is therefore fraught with a huge array of potentially awkward or cringeworthy encounters.

As someone who has spent all of my working life in an office environment, I have had my fair share of awkward, irritating or just plain rude encounters with colleagues. The colleague who comes back from a (boozy/garlicky) lunch and breathes all over you, the colleague with personal space issues who always stands too close, the colleague who microwaves leftover fish in the office kitchen. These colleagues are annoying - to be sure - but what about the colleagues whose ideas around personal hygiene don't quite line up with our own; the colleague who doesn't wash their hands after using the bathroom, or comes to work sick? Unless you are made of sterner stuff than I, these scenarios can be extremely “cringeworthy”; by which I mean that they put us in a situation in which we feel extremely uncomfortable, and at a loss for how to tackle the undesirable  behaviour.

Without further ado, here are my top five “cringeworthy” office hygiene scenarios:

1. A colleague leaves the bathroom without washing their hands: 

You’re in the office bathroom, and a colleague exits the stall and then the bathroom without washing their hands!  Gross!  It’s bad enough that they haven't washed their own hands, but when they open the bathroom door using those unwashed hands they have also - indirectly - contaminated the hands of everyone else who touches the contaminated handle…

I’m not sure about you, but in this scenario I don’t ever want to shake hands with this colleague again, or borrow their stapler, or eat lunch near them, or… or … or …..

For more information of the importance of handwashing - especially after using the bathroom - take a look at our blog 5 reasons you should make a habit of handwashing

2. A colleague sneezes/coughs into their hand, and then tries to shake yours:

Eeeeeew” is my immediate (internal monologue) response, although that’s generally not acceptable in a working environment. Tres awkward!  We know that up to 80% of infectious diseases are spread by people’s hands, and handshaking is a major culprit, especially if people are unwell, which can make for a very awkward situation in the office. So what to do?  For some alternatives to the traditional handshake, check out our blog post on Should handshakes be banned

3. A colleague eats at their desk: 

So many people eat at  their desks, but if they actually knew how gross it was, I’m pretty sure they’d reconsider. Even worse is the colleague who finishes up a tasty sarnie, licks their fingers and then asks to borrow something of YOURS.  I definitely don't want their grubby hands touching my stuff, but it’s way too awkward to say no.  

Check out our blog on How to keep your laptop clean for some horrifying statistics on what might be hiding between the keys of your laptop, in your desktop’s keyboard, or on your mouse. 

4. A colleague stays in their sweaty gym kit after exercise:

Whether we are chasing a Discovery workout goal, a personal best or just generally want to get fitter, many of us exercise before work, or try and squeeze in a quick workout at lunch. 

Generally it’s considered good practice to change out of your gym clothes before you get to the office; especially if you don’t take a shower.  But we’ve all got that one colleague who thinks remaining in their sweaty activewear is a perfectly acceptable! Stinky!!

Bacteria loves to breed in moist areas (such as your sweaty gym clothes) and is what causes body odour.  Check out our blog That awkward question: How to tell a colleague they have body odour for advice on how to handle this very cringe-worthy subject.

5. An obviously sick colleague comes to work

Is there anything worse than being stuck in an office with that one colleague who comes to work regardless of how sick they are; coughing, snuffling, sniffing and generally spreading their germs around the office? 

Once upon a time (maybe the 80’s!) employees who showed up to work sick were considered admirable team players who put their work above their health. But coming  to work when you’re sick doesn’t make you a more valuable employee! Nobody wants your germs. If you really cannot afford to take a sick day, then work from home and spare us all the awkwardness of having to give you and your germs a wide berth.  

I’m sure  you’ll agree that all of the above have the potential to be extremely uncomfortable workplace scenarios.  When placed in the context of a busy office, these poor hygiene choices also have the potential to negatively affect more than just the individual concerned and can have financially costly ramifications.  If you need a reminder of just how expensive poor office hygiene can be, check out our blog on the Cost of Absenteeism.  

What do your colleagues do that make you cringe and run for the hand sanitiser? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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