Reducing Workplace Absenteeism

7 Ways to Reduce Germs and Stress

sick-at-deskIn the distance you might be able to make out that old familiar rumble, cold and flu season is upon the offices of Ireland once again. The pained looks on the faces around the office as someone reaches for a tissue to blow their nose while off in some forgotten far flung corner of the office the sound of a chesty cough reverberates for all to ignore at their peril.

Back in 2011 IBEC reported that absenteeism due to illness was costing Irish businesses €1.5bn a year or €818 per employee. The Small Firms Association claimed in 2010 that small businesses in Ireland lose over €563m a year through absenteeism. While in the public sector sick leave is costing the State about €430 million annually.

Have you ever noticed that it is usually office workers in the likes of "The Walking Dead", "Planet of the Apes" or "I Am Legend" that spread the illness. Before you go blaming your co-worker for potentially being a carrier of the simian flu lets look at things a bit more objectively.

In 2012 Kimberly-Clark and Dr. Charles Gerba carried out a series of tests in a number of common office environments to check the levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP levels give an idea of how many animal, mould, yeast, bacteria and vegetable cells micro-organisms are present on a surface. If a surface has an ATP level of 300 or above, that surface is considered a possible risk for illness.

Lets get the stomach churning facts out of the way.

  • The average office desk has 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat. In fact 22 out of every 30 computer keyboards will have more bugs than the office toilet seat.
  • Telephones, desks, water fountain handles and microwave door handles carry more germs than your office bathroom.
  • 21% of vending machines have an ATP score of 300 or more.
  • 75 percent of bathroom sink taps have an ATP score of 300 or more.
  • 23% of water fountain handles have a high ATP level.

Our keyboards and desks, water fountains and microwave handles have become incubation hubs for the different strains of flus and colds that we suffer from during the year. But it is not just these common office surfaces that could be potentially causing high absenteeism as stress has being reported as a factor as well.


How Is Stress Affecting The Workplace?

  • The New Yorker, quoting Cornell University, reported that “clerical workers who were exposed to open office noise for three hours had increased levels of epinephrine” which has been known to increase levels of stress.
  • 51 % of European workers find work-related stress to be common in their workplace.
  • 42% of Irish workers believe that work-related stress is common in the workplace.
  • Up to 60% of working hours lost through absenteeism are due to work-related stress but fewer than 30% of organisations have procedure to deal with it.

But what can be done to help reduce the impact of the above on your workplace? We’ve asked our business insurance team to come up with 7 things you can do to help stop the spread of germs and cut down potential causes of stress.

  1. Help eliminate the spread of germs in the workplace by cleaning your computer desk and keyboard regularly with disinfectant wipes. Get all the crumbs and dust out of your keyboard by emptying it into a bin.
  2. Help eliminate stress in the workplace by promoting a clean desk policy. This will cut down on the amount of clutter around your desk as well as removing potential germ breathing grounds.
  3. Help eliminate the spread of germs in the workplace by installing hand sanitisers in key locations in the building (exits/entrances and close to break areas.)
  4. Help eliminate stress in the workplace by encouraging people to do some exercise during the working day. This can be anything from going for a walk to climbing the stairs. Not only will it help reduce stress levels but it can also help maintain a healthy weight. Chill Insurance are getting behind this idea by giving you the chance to win a years supply of New Balance runners during the months of September and October.
  5. Help eliminate stress in the workplace by trying to identify tasks or areas of your job that can cause you stress. For example if you are getting too many emails why not try to get yourself removed from the offending mailing lists. Are your coworkers too loud? Check with your department head if you are able to wear noise cancelling headphones at the desk.
  6. Help eliminate the spread of germs in the workplace by keeping disinfectant wipes in key areas such as the shared bathroom and kitchen. Encourage people to use them as much as possible.
  7. Help eliminate stress in the workplace by redesigning the work environment. We’re not suggesting a full scale makeover but by identifying and redesigning key areas of the workplace that are seen to increase stress among workers you might be able to reduce the potential impact of stress.

Any small organisational cultural changes that you can implement during the course of the average year could have a significant long term impact on the level of workplace absenteeism due to sickness or stress.

A small investment in hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes could help you reduce the cost of workplace absenteeism in the future.