Sniff. Cough. Oh, sorry. I’ll just leave this used tissue on the desk while we talk. You know I never get why people say that this is the most wonderful time of the year? Do they not see that your office has become a sniffling, coughing, snotty germfest place?
See Also: How to Beat the Office Cold with Food
So, since your horrible boss won’t let you put up a quarantine tent over your cubicle and won’t let you work from home to get away from your sick colleagues, even though they probably should, what can you do? Well, actually there’s quite a lot of things you can do. And it’s not like it’s only your sick colleagues who have to look out. It’s as much your responsibility to avoid getting ill as it is your colleagues’ to avoid spreading their germs.
If you’ve found that giving them an evil look, refusing to shake their hands and taking a big step back every time they sneeze or cough is too subtle, then here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
1. Wash Your Hands
Before you tell me to stop being so obvious, wait: I mean you should be washing them properly, with soap and water (sanitizer is less effective than you might think), often, and you shouldn’t then defeat the purpose by touching the toilet door. Still obvious? Let’s take that step by step:
Properly. Properly means soap and water and a minimum of 20 seconds. A quick wipe with sanitizer, or a quick rinse, isn’t enough; you want to get the whole hand, up to the wrist, and even go under your nails.
Often. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to always wash after going to the toilet. But what about after eating? Do you bother if you didn’t eat anything messy? Probably not. How about after blowing your nose? Using the copier? Touching anything that has potentially been touched by someone contagious? Didn’t think so. Given that touching something with germs on it and then touching your eyes, mouth or face can easily make you sick, it might be time to rethink your approach.
The door. Don’t think about this too much, but there are people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. Then they touch that door. So what makes you think you’re still clean after washing your hands and touching that door? Consider using a tissue, asking for push doors, and getting motion sensitive taps and dispensers.
2. Clean Everything Else
Question: Does your office have a cleaner who comes in every evening to clean the kitchen and empty your bin?
Follow up question: Do those cleaners ever clean beyond that?
Here’s a fun fact: keyboards are dirtier than toilets. (Which is why you really shouldn’t eat lunch at your desk, ew.) The cleaners getting that mysterious stain off your desk might be great, but they probably haven’t cleaned your keyboard, your mouse, your phone, or the buttons on that microwave you use to heat up your food. Everything you touch, from shared office equipment to the elevator buttons, is covered in germs from the sick. Probably not even just the sick from this year. What makes you assume your keyboard and mouse were cleaned before they were passed on to you?
Ask that your boss provides sanitizer wipe dispensers, as much for people’s hands as for all other equipment. The same way people who go to the gym are expected to wipe down the equipment they use, so should office workers wipe down the copier, microwave and anything else, ideally whether they’re sick or not. Don’t forget that you’re usually the most contagious before you even feel bad.
3. Keep Healthy
Here comes the point you knew was coming: get enough sleep, get enough exercise - take a brisk walk at lunch for some fresh air - and avoid smoking, sweets, alcohol and stress. Getting stressed means raising your cortisol and epinephrine levels, which weakens your immune system, which means making you more susceptible to getting ill.
While you should stay away from sweets and alcohol, you should also stay hydrated. Choose yoghurt over anything filled with refined sugar, and choose hot tea over iced for the steam. If you find tea boring, consider including honey and lemon; honey helps fight bacteria, and lemon thins the mucus that gives you a stuffy nose.
4. Know When to Stay Home
If your boss is the type who doesn’t allow people to stay home when they’re sick, then consider lobbying for paid sick days: not only is a sick worker a worse worker, but they also put everyone else at risk of catching it. Would they really prefer an office filled with sick people rather than allowing one to stay at home?
These days staying at home doesn’t necessarily mean no work; depending on how sick the person is, they should still be able to get something done once they’ve made themselves comfortable enough. Dragging themselves out of bed, doing their commute and into their cubicle is not comfortable or conducive to doing anything if they’re too exhausted to think.
An employee who drags themselves in with a fever is not impressive; a boss who makes an employee do that is not setting a good example. A better idea would be to set up a work from home scheme that allows people a certain number of days they can work from home during the cold and flu season; it would be much more appreciated by those who are sick and those who don’t want to get sick, especially people such as pregnant women.
5. Get Your Flu Shots
A boss who tries to make flu shots mandatory is a boss who might find themselves in trouble with people who are against shots for personal or religious reasons, but they can strongly suggest them. Flu shots might not be 100 percent effective, but they do create "herd immunity" - the idea that the higher the percentage of people who are immune, the harder it is for the disease to spread.
6. Take Everyone on a Field Trip
No, not to the local Museum of Contagious Diseases, but to two other stops: the nearest flower shop and the nearest sauna. At the flower shop everyone should pick up a geranium for their desk; properties in their leaves kill airborne bacteria, and if you pull off one of their leaves and rub it when you want to sneeze, it will stop it. As for the sauna, it’s believed that going just twice a week can halve the number of colds people get because the air in the sauna is too hot for your cold to survive - perhaps an idea for the next time you get sick instead of wasting time on medicine and tissues.
Once you’re done telling everyone about how to wash their hands, consider instituting social distancing, the practice of staying three feet away from each other and not shaking hands; it might not solve the problem, but it does help slow the spread. Additionally, tell them how to cough and sneeze properly. They aren’t children any more, they shouldn’t be using their hands or wiping their noses with their sleeves. But do they know that if you don’t have a tissue at the ready, it’s actually better to use your elbow than your hand?
See Also: Most Common Workplace Illnesses
Now you’re finished reading you can go and follow the steps in the article to make sure this is the last cold you ever have - or at least the last one you ever catch at work. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to keep everyone in the world from getting sick, though the one other place you do have control over is your home; sick kids lead to a sick you which leads to a sick office. If you’re reading this and that sentence just made you realize you’re the biggest germ culprit, then perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to judge your sickly colleagues.
Do you get a cold every year? Do you give them as well as get them? What things do you do to avoid them? Let us know in the comments section below.