With millions of us heading to work every day to spend hours in close proximity, it's no wonder UK offices are less than spotless. However, you might be surprised at just how unclean your workplace is. Take a moment to digest this fact – you'd be safer eating your lunch off a toilet seat than off your desk's keyboard. Surprised?
We consider just how dirty your office is and, more importantly, what you can do about it.
How Dirty is Your Office?
Studies have shown that offices are a hotbed of germs.Dr. Charles P. Gerba, an acknowledged expert on household microbes and intestinal diseases, is one of the first microbiologists to study bacteria counts in the workplace. He's found that personal areas such as cubicles have far more bacteria than communal areas, with desks, keyboards and telephones topping the 'grubby' list.
Let's take a look at some stats:
Phone – The average desk phone has around 25,127 bacteria per surface, making it the most unhygienic item in your office. This is largely because you put it straight to your mouth and rarely think to clean or disinfect it.
Desk – The average desk is not much cleaner with around 20,961 bacteria – some desks have even been found to be 400 times dirtier than a toilet seat.
Keyboard – Gerba suggests that the average keyboard has around 3,295 bacteria per surface.Tests by consumer group Which? at its London offices found keyboards carrying bugs that could cause food poisoning, with four out of 33 being deemed potential health hazards. Microbiologist Dr Peter Wilson stated that a keyboard is frequently, "a reflection of what is in your nose and in your gut." Keyboards can also be home to crumbs, hair, dead skin and even dead insects.
Mouse – Your mouse comes next on the list of the most unhygienic equipment in your office, with 1,676 bacteria on average per surface.
Copy Machine – The office copy machine is generally home to 301 bacteria.
Men's Toilet Seat – The toilet seats in the men's cubicles come near to the bottom of the list with only 49 bacteria on average per surface – yep, you heard that right, most of the items on your desk are dirtier.
The Impact of Office Cleanliness on Staff
Increasingly, our office environments are being shown to have a notable impact on our well-being – both psychological and physical. So how could this build-up of dirt and grime affect us?
£11.7 billion is lost by UK businesses each year due to staff taking sickness absence, and whilst this can't be entirely attributed to the bacteria in our offices, they certainly don't help.
Not all bacteria will make staff unwell, with many being known as 'good bacteria'. These are similar to the bacteria that naturally reside in your body and are sometimes used in yoghurts and dietary supplements. However, there are around 50 types that are known to be harmful.
The most harmful bacteria commonly found in our offices is Staphylococcus aureus, and is present in human nasal membranes, hair follicles and skin. It can cause a range of infections including acne and pneumonia.
The Sick Building Syndrome
The Sick Building Syndrome is a condition that affects employees and is characterised by symptoms such as headaches and respiratory problems. It is caused by unhealthy and stressful factors in the working environment. Whilst, many of the factors are issues such as ventilation and lighting, it can also be caused by poor standards of cleanliness..
In a study by Dr Carrie A Redlich, Judy Sparer and Prof Mark R Cullen it was found that treatment needed to involve both the patient and the building, and that changes such as ventilation improvements and reduction of sources of environmental contamination should be implemented where possible.
An unclean working environment can also have a negative effect on employee's psychology. Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between a cleaner, tidier work environment and increased, sustained productivity.
A survey by Staples Advantage Canada found that 94 per cent of the customers they polled said they felt more productive in a clean workspace, with 77 per cent stating they produce higher quality work in a clean, tidy and organised environment.
What Can You Do?
Hiring a professional cleaning service is the most obvious step to take in the fight against office grime. They can provide expertise, fully trained staff and top quality products and equipment to ensure your workplace is as clean as possible. If you opt for a provider that offers a fully managed service, you also have the benefit of being able to focus on your job without having to worry about things getting done.
There are a number of other small things that you can do to help keep your office clean:
- Draw up a cleaning rota for communal areas such as the kitchen. This doesn't have to be intensive but should include tasks such as wiping down surfaces, and loading and unloading the dishwasher
- Encourage staff to frequently clean their desk and disinfect the surface
- Clean keyboards on a regular basis. Purchase a keyboard cleaning kit or follow a reliable online guide
- Purchase phone sanitizer to frequently clean handsets
Our offices are dirtier than you might think – and some of the biggest culprits when it comes to workplace grime might surprise you. Phones, desks and keyboards carry the most bacteria, with some desks carrying 400 times as many bugs as a toilet seat. Grim.
Exposure to certain types of harmful bacteria is likely to contribute to staff absence, a major cause of lost revenue for UK businesses. When you consider the fact that some keyboards have been found to harbour bacteria that cause food poisoning, it seems likely that office cleanliness is, on occasion, to blame for employee illness.
Fortunately there are things you can do to combat the grime. Hiring a professional office cleaner is an important to step to ensure that your workplace is as spotless as possible.
Are you surprised at how dirty our offices are?
*Image by NIAID