Why Your Office Is Slowly Killing You — And What To Do About It

Published July 26, 2016
Updated July 27, 2016

The Break Room

Break Room


If allergens like mold don’t affect you, wait until you hear what’s lurking in the break room.

In a six-month study thought to be the most comprehensive of its kind, personal care company Kimberly Clark collected 5,000 swabs from office buildings to test them for germs. It found that kitchens and break rooms have just as many germs as restrooms, if not more.

“A lot of people are aware of the risk of germs in the restroom, but areas like break rooms have not received the same degree of attention,” microbiology professor Charles Gerba said in the Kimberly-Clark news release. “This study demonstrates that contamination can be spread throughout the workplace when office workers heat up lunch, make coffee or simply type on their keyboards.”

In this particular study, researchers placed sample viruses on one or two surfaces, and then tested 60 to 100 surfaces in the office buildings periodically during the day. They found that about half of the surfaces tested were contaminated with the sample virus within a few hours.

What can be done? Researchers found that using EPA-approved disinfecting wipes on surfaces in the office reduced the sample virus (which behaved similar to a standard flu virus) 80 to 99 percent. This, along with proper hand-washing and restroom hygiene, can greatly reduce sick building syndrome.

The Furniture

Desk Chair


Bad news, desk sitters: A Journal of the American Medical Association study found that if you’re more than 45 years old and sit for more than 11 hours a day, you have a 40 percent greater chance of dying in the next three years.

While terrifying enough in its own right, that statistic is easily misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that there is a 40 percent chance that you will die – but it does mean you should probably try to move more and sit less.

If you’re already at risk for type 2 diabetes, research published in Diabetologia Journal suggests that the amount of time spent sitting vs. standing plays a more important role in acquiring diabetes than actual exercise.

One way to counteract this — along with the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer — is by purchasing a standing desk. Just make sure it doesn’t contain toxic glue or formaldehyde-filled wood, as inhaling them may make you quite ill.

What can be done? If a standing desk is a no-go, set an alarm on your phone to take a “walk break” every half hour. Become fidgety; pace while taking phone calls and move your legs around under your desk. Drink lots of water; you’ll have the benefit of hydration and be forced to walk — to the restroom, anyway.

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.