It’s no surprise that the average office is a breeding ground for germs—we do spend most of our waking ours there, after all. But what is surprising is just how quickly germs can spread in your work space. “We did a study that found when one person comes to work sick, they can spread germs to 50 percent of their coworkers by lunchtime,” says Kelly Reynolds, PhD, a microbiologist and associate professor at the University of Arizona. “It was crazy!”
And while you could go to work in a hazmat suit, there are easier (boss-approved) ways to avoid catching every gross bug your coworkers bring to the office. The trick, says Dr. Reynolds, is knowing the germiest hot spots and either avoiding them or washing your hands after touching them. Here’s where to be on high alert.
Think you know which areas are crawling with microbes? Keep reading.
1. The coffee pot
According to Dr. Reynolds, this is the most contaminated spot in the office—specifically, the handle of the coffee pot. “Think about it: Everyone’s hands touch it in the morning and throughout the day, and even when you wash the coffee pot, you’re holding the handle, so it’s most likely not getting cleaned,” she says. “It’s a perfect storm.” But her team’s studies have shown that if someone cleans that handle just once a day (think disinfecting wipes), it can result in 80 percent reduction of germ transfer. Your bud one desk over offers to bring you a fresh cup? Take her up on it!
2. The copier
This shared machine is used regularly enough to harbor germs, but infrequently enough that it’s easy to overlook when cleaning. Those buttons? Probably haven’t been wiped down in a while. But again, Dr. Reynolds points out how easy it is to reduce germs: “Just grab a wipe and wipe it down,” she says. Even a once-a-day swipe of a disinfecting cloth is enough to cut transmission rates significantly.
3. Your phone
Your cell phone travels everywhere with you—the bathroom, the lunch table, the conference room—and that high-touch, travel-anywhere habit means your phone is probably covered in filth. Research shows the average phone actually has more 10 times more bacteria on it than a toilet seat, Dr. Reynold says. And one in six phones is contaminated with fecal matter (gross!). To get into the habit of actually cleaning your phone, Reynolds suggests linking it to another healthy habit: “Every time you wash your hands, wipe down your phone,” she says. Simple as that.
4. Your desk
Many viruses, including the flu, spend about 10 minutes in the air and then settle on surfaces where they can survive for days, says Dr. Reynolds. And your desk is likely a catch-all for everything: your phone, your bag, your coffee mug, your straight-from-the-commute unwashed hands. Touch your desk and then your face, and you could be sniffling and sneezing within a day.
Dr. Reynolds suggests a two-step approach to making this area less germy: Give it a wipe down once a day, and be more mindful of what you put there in the first place: “If you set your purse on the floor of the bathroom and then plop it on your desk, that’s pretty radical transmission,” she says.
5. The bathroom faucets
Think about it: People use the toilet, then touch the faucets to turn on the water and wash their hands, leaving the faucets teaming with bacteria. Then, once your paws are scrubbed, you touch the faucet again to turn it off—and re-contaminate your hands. But breaking the endless cycle of contamination is actually pretty easy, says Dr. Reynolds: Grab a paper towel and use that to turn the water off. (And go ahead and use it to open the bathroom door, too—another high-transmission area.)
Feeling like it’s not your office that needs a change, but your whole career? Maybe look to your Myers-Briggs personality type for some direction. Whether you’re staying in your current field or changing it up, these are the four questions to ask yourself to become a star leader.
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