By Chris Correnti
The flu season strikes hard and fast at businesses, and facility professionals are tasked with maintaining a clean workplace to keep employees as safe and healthy as possible. While it is no mystery that some places in the office, such as cubicles, carry a relatively lower risk for spreading germs and may not require the thorough cleaning that restrooms do, it may be surprising to learn that the breakroom is one of the primary hot spots for harboring germs in the workplace. In fact, tests conducted by the International Sanitary Supply Association revealed some of the most common surface areas of a breakroom—sink faucet handles, microwave door handles, refrigerator door handles, water fountain buttons, and vending machine buttons—had some of the highest concentrations of germ contamination.
Maintaining hygiene in the workplace, especially during flu season, is key to preventing the spread of germs throughout the office, especially considering how the flu impacts the bottom line of business. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu costs the United States more than $87 billion each year and close to 17 million missed workdays each flu season, so taking proper precautions is necessary.
The truth is that while most facility professionals focus on keeping the restrooms clean, the office breakroom is just as important when it comes to preventing the spread of germs. Facility staff constantly look for ways to create a clean and healthy workplace that employs the most effective and sustainable cleaning practices and products throughout the facility. However, in an age of doing more with less, budgets can be restrictive, making the job difficult. To optimize resources, it’s important to prioritize and allocate more resources toward office areas that encounter a high volume of foot traffic, germs, and dirt.
Staples recently conducted a survey of 1,500 U.S. office workers on their flu behavior in the office, and 60% of surveyed employees revealed that they show up to work despite having the flu. Not only is productivity diminished (36% of respondents say that their personal productivity is less than 50% of their usual level when they go to work with the flu), but under-the-weather employees put their healthy co-workers in danger.
To achieve maximum results in improving breakroom cleanliness at any time of year—but especially during the flu season, consider the following actions:
Educate. While there are a number of top-tier products and best practices that custodial staff can use in the breakroom to prevent the spread of germs, it’s important to educate the building occupants and institute training programs on the significance of keeping such common areas as breakrooms clean.
Engage. Facility staff and office managers should also engage employees by conducting a virtual walk through of a facility. They should ask questions and offer hints to help them find germ hot spots in areas like breakrooms. Other tactics such as installing signage to indicate germ-infested zones—including near a breakroom sink—can serve as reminders to wash hands.
Equip. Providing custodial staff with the right product solutions is important to prevent the spread of germs. It’s also essential to make hand sanitizers easily available, and to provide quality microfiber cloths and hospital-grade disinfectants, with instructions to wipe down counter tops, tables, appliance handles, and other high-risk surfaces at least once daily to keep these surfaces as germ-free as possible.
To minimize the impact of chemicals released into the environment from the frequent use of disinfectants and cleaners, facility professionals should consider replacing traditional cleaning supplies with sustainable products. And they should define what “green” means for their business, and then identify safe, sustainable products that meet these objectives. While the general perception is that sustainable products are more expensive, it’s important to note that purchasing the cheapest products may offer short-term, seemingly immediate savings, but these decisions may actually increase labor costs and inhibit sustainable practices.
The flu and other illnesses, especially when working in close quarters, can have a domino effect in the workplace—taking down workers and seriously hindering productivity. By emphasizing workplace wellness, companies can reduce absenteeism, boost productivity, and increase employee retention. Through effective education, engagement, and implementation, facility professionals can play a vital role in helping curb the spread of flu.
Correnti is vice president/general manager for Staples Facility Solutions. He has more than 20 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods/distribution industry, managing programs and teams that service multiple channels, including business-to-business and business-to-consumer, and verticals like education, government, and retail.