If you’ve been noticing more absences around your office, don’t be alarmed: It’s the peak of cold and flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the season typically lasts anywhere from late December through March, but peaks in February. With the long hours most of us put in at the office these days, spending more time at your desk means a greater chance of germ build-up–and illness.
So, what can you do about it? In the last few years, we’ve been bombarded with messages from the media about how germy our lives have become–from Oprah’s expose on household germs, to the Today show’s testing of hotel room cleanliness. We’ve also heard plenty of antibacterial products promising to keep our homes and offices cleaner. But do they really work? Just how effective are these products in preventing the spread of germs, and ultimately, illness.
Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty
In most work environments, offices and cubicles have higher bacteria levels than surfaces in common areas. What spot in your office space is friendliest to germs? Telephones topped the charts in most offices, followed by desks and computer keyboards. The phone is typically the dirtiest piece of equipment in an office because it goes straight to your mouth, and you never clean or disinfect it.
Contrary to popular belief, most office spaces and items, like desks and phones, end up having more bacteria than the average office toilet seat. In past studies, it has been found that the average desk harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.
Here are a few examples of the averages:
Office Item/Average Number of Bacteria per surface
Phone – 25,127
Desk – 20,961
Keyboard – 3,295
Mouse – 1,676
Fax Machine – 301
Copy Machine – 69
Toilet Seat – 49
Where Exactly Did You Catch That Cold?
Now that we know which office items harbor more bacteria and need a little extra TLC, let’s look at the factors that contribute to making one office germier than another.
What about the job itself? most bacteria per square inch was found on surfaces used by school teachers because of their constant contact with children. Accountants ranked second to teachers, followed by bankers, radio disc jockeys and doctors. Consultants, publicists and lawyers harbored the least amount of bacteria per square inch in their offices.
Aside from your career, gender can also play a factor in office cleanliness. You might be surprised by the results: the bacteria levels in women’s offices were nearly three times higher than in men’s offices. Women seem to have more ‘stuff’ in their offices, from makeup bags to pictures of family and purses on their desks.
On average, women’s offices had the germiest telephones, computer keyboards, computer mice and pens, while men’s offices had the most bacteria-ridden desks. But men still win the prize for the germiest item of all: men’s wallets were the single germiest item in any office–four times worse than women’s purses.
How to Be Germ-Free
All this germ talk leads us to our next topic: office sickness.
So how can you protect your office from becoming a comfortable spot for bacteria to grow?
Wipe down your desk and surrounding items with a disinfecting wipe once a week.
Keep a hand sanitizer at your desk and use it throughout the day.
If you tend to eat at your desk on a regular basis, think again–this behavior is inviting bacteria to grow at your fingertips.
Wash coffee mugs and glasses on a regular basis.
If you’re sick, don’t go to work.
By using these tips, employees and employers could potentially cut absenteeism in half. That means reducing the typical two-to-three colds per employee each year. That figure doubles for workers with children.
It’s a simple solution for a nasty issue. And offices across the nation are taking notice.
For more tips on keeping your office germ-free, visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.