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How to practice winter desk hygiene without wiping out morale

You had to use your coworker's computer for a minute. As soon as you leave, this coworker is bleaching down his or her entire work area like it's a bio-hazard zone. Yikes. How should we react to colleagues who make a Very Big Deal about everybody else's germs?


Hey, they're our germs, so they're okay -- at least to us, right? We live with them all day long. So we cannot understand why our germaphobe coworker frantically wipes down his or her desk every time we go near it. It's like they can't clean it fast enough.

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At least we know it's not only us they're singling out with paper towels and copious amounts of 409 spray. Everybody in the office gets the same antibacterial treatment. Even customers.

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We can appreciate that this coworker is taking necessary measures to avoid getting sick; we only wish he or she wasn't so obvious about it. There must be a more understated, subtle way to go about de-germing one's work area that doesn't make other coworkers feel like Typhoid Mary.

"Great, now I have to wipe down my entire work area again," this coworker might quietly grumble in frustration as we walk back to our desk. "Fifth time this morning I've had to do it." But we only typed briefly on this co-worker's keyboard, and moved her chair out of the way to get to the computer. We very kindly let her desk phone go to voicemail, but she wipes down her phone set, anyway. Was it something we said?

When the Cold and Flu Turns HR Snafu
No, it's the impending cold and flu season speaking loudly and clearly. Mix cold and flu season with germ warfare at work, and the result can leave some employees feeling slightly out of sorts.

Of course, many employers are sending out reminders this time of year to put our mouths to our elbow when we cough, to use hand sanitizer, and to avoid handshakes if the cold or flu is running the table at work. These reminders are all good and well, especially after we just watched two coworkers leave the restroom without washing their hands. Ew.

But what is the peer-to-peer etiquette around work area wipe downs? A work area wipe down gone wrong could leave some coworkers feeling slightly offended. Here are my tips for being on both sides of this Lysol-fueled workplace interaction:

If you're the one with the bleach spray, please wait until your coworker has left the room -- or is out of eyeshot -- before you begin your wipe down. Also, please do not say anything negative that your coworkers might overhear. That's just simple kindness and respect.

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If you're the reason a coworker is whipping out the bleach spray, ponder your alternatives. One, you could use somebody else's keyboard, if possible. Two, you could use this coworker's bleach spray to clean up after yourself as a courtesy move. Three, you could ignore their frantic fumigation efforts and know that it isn't only you who receives this treatment. Even the CEO gets the Mr. Clean routine.

Fourth, you could say, "I heard that" when your coworker grumbles about the keyboard germs you left behind, but that might just open up a can of worms.

TL;DR: In the end, the best way to practice good winter desk hygiene without potentially offending some coworkers is to do your daily desk wipe downs on the down low. This way, all will be well.

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