Working at Rentokil Initial, I’m very aware of germs and cross contamination at the best of times, but during the winter months this turns to paranoia. I’m not just worried about getting sick myself, I’m also worried about sharing germs with my colleagues and then taking those germs home to my family.
The worst case scenario is absenteeism at work, which wreaks havoc on productivity (and creates unhappy managers), and a sick toddler, which generally leads to sleep deprivation and unhappiness in the household. Needless to say when I hear a cough - even in the distance - I head towards the hand sanitiser unit.
The good news is that we are not completely powerless in the battle against germs. We just need to become more aware and share information to promote good hygiene practices in our environments.
7 workplace mistakes that are making you sick
1. Not washing hands regularly
80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch*.
Tell me, how many hands did you shake today? Without grossing you out so much that you don’t want to read past this sentence, you need to consider the fact that while you might have washed your hands recently, the other person may not have.
“High risk” situations where you should be washing - or at least sanitising - your hands include; after using the bathroom, before preparing or consuming food, and after contact; like shaking hands. It is important to wash your hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds and to dry your hands thoroughly.
2. Daily cleaning practices
Do you know if your contract cleaning company or cleaning staff are trained to use different cloths and colour coded cleaning equipment to clean different areas within your office environment?
Unfortunately there is no elegant way to say this, but if your daily cleaner is using the same cloth to clean your kitchen basin and crockery as they do to clean the toilet, you might as well eat your lunch off the toilet rim. You are at risk of picking up a variety of pathogens which cause respiratory and digestive system related illness.
It’s important to remember that hygiene is everyone’s responsibility. Take note of what your daily cleaner is doing and request for your facilities manager do a training session with this team if you are not happy with the way cleaning is being performed.
3. Not sanitising your hands after using the fingerprint scanner
Access control is no longer something they have only in banks, it’s becoming a way of life in many corporates. Unfortunately the humble fingerprint scanner (which helps keep us safe) could cause harm to you and your business.
How many people do you see washing or sanitising their hands after using the fingerprint scanner? Not too many I suspect.
Did you know that cold and flu pathogens can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours*? Flashback to point one… how many people are you touching indirectly? The fingerprint scanner is one of the contributing pieces of equipment that spreads colds and flu through the office like a cold wind during the winter months.
Luckily this is something that can quite easily be remedied by putting a hand sanitiser unit or sanitiser wipes next to the fingerprint scanner.
4. Sharing office stationery and equipment
Your desk is your private space and as long as your daily cleaner keeps the layer of dust at bay most people are generally happy. But doesn’t your boss occasionally borrow your pen, your co-worker sits at your workstation to solve that impossible spreadsheet formula or your friend quickly uses your phone?
The average desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat!
How many times a week do you sanitise your desk and stationery? I’m sure the answer, from now on, will be twice a week at least!
5. Airflow in your office, especially in meeting rooms
Meetings are a part of office life. The more senior you become, the more meetings you need to attend. Productive meetings are a must but have you considered your environment while sitting in these meetings?
90% of the time you will be seated in a room with the door and windows closed. You might have the air conditioner humming in the background or possibly a heater in winter. I’m sure you are so focussed at the task at hand that you don’t even notice that your meeting becomes a sealed box swirling with germs.
You also need to consider that the longer the meeting continues, the worse your air quality becomes. This leads to fatigue and further enhances your chance of picking up airborne germs.
Be mindful of your meeting environments. If possible, open a window for fresh air to circulate and ensure you add some plants to your meeting room as plants improve quality and efficiency. Learn more about how plants can improve your environment.
6. Eating at your desk
Eating at your desk is a fact of life for many of us. With growing demands and the days seemingly shorter, eating at our desks feels like a #lifehack to save some time.
You are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not only do you have to worry about the germs on your desk, you are actually reducing your productivity. By not taking regular breaks and walking around you are increasing your stress, stiffening your joints and reducing the intake of oxygen caused by shallow breathing because of the long period of concentration and lack of movement. These things also, of course, contribute to making you ill.
So take a break, go for a walk outside and eat your lunch somewhere quiet. You will be surprised how refreshed you feel when you get back to your desk!
7. Not cleaning your desk with disinfectant regularly
Looking at the list above, I’m sure that you have already gone to wash your hands, sanitised your stationary and opened a window close to your workspace. My last request is that you don’t forget about your desk.
Remember to sanitise your desk when you sanitise your equipment as this is often your first touch point when you sit down at your workstation.
Thank you for not heading for the hills and sticking with this post. I know that you’ve had a few “gross moments” in the last 5 minutes. It was just painful to write about as it is to read about. But I do hope that you feel more aware and empowered to take on illnesses lurking in your workplace.
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* Bean, B., Moore, B. M., & Sterner, B. (1982). Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 146 (1), 47-51