Annual 'Office Cleanliness Monitor' Identifies Employees' Least Clean Office Areas

Nov. 1, 2005
U.S. office workers are growing more aware of and more disturbed by the remarkably untidy office habits of their co-workers in 2005, according to new research from ServiceMaster Clean, a leading janitorial services company.

This trend, combined with doubts about the thoroughness of janitorial office cleaning, may be driving workers to take steps on their own to maintain clean and germ-free workplaces.

The Office Cleanliness Monitor 2005 surveyed 215 U.S. office workers and 330 building managers to explore perceptions of cleanliness in the workplace. The monitor found that more than three-quarters 76 percent of workers believe that their workplace is not as clean as it should be; and they suspect that individual office floors, break areas/kitchens and phones/keyboards are the least sanitary places in their offices.

Compared to last year, office workers are witnessing more frequent germ-spreading behavior by their colleagues. A full 54 percent of workers have seen their fellow employees leave the restroom without washing their hands, versus only 45 percent in 2004. The 2005 Monitor also reports that 65 percent of workers have seen their colleagues take off their shoes in the office, while 54 percent have seen co-workers take newspapers, magazines or work into and out of the restroom. Six in 10 workers have observed co-workers leaving dirty dishes out.

"It's an interesting phenomenon that our behavior seems to have taken a turn for the worse when it comes to spreading germs in the office," said Gary Bauer, vice president, ServiceMaster Clean Business Services. "In turn, the realization that employees are creating less-healthy work environments appears to be driving a dramatic improvement in our own cleaning habits at the office."

The monitor found significant increases in routine cleaning tasks performed by office workers in 2005. A full 82 percent of office workers reported wiping items with a germ-killing substance this year, versus only 69 percent in 2004. And, 86 percent have dusted their desks with a cloth, a 6percent increase over last year.

Information from the survey of building managers records a trend of personal cleaning by employees. Twenty-one percent of building managers reported seeing an increase in tenants who clean their workspaces than in the past. At the same time, 97 percent of janitorial providers are instructed by building management not to move items on a desk and to only clean "open" areas, indicating that perpetually messy desks may be breeding grounds for germs. More than 50 percent of building managers acknowledge that their janitorial contracts do not call for cleaning/disinfecting office phones or dusting mini-blinds.

"Cleaning crews do exactly what building management is requesting and their business is willing to pay for," Bauer said. "The Office Cleanliness Monitor sheds light on the need for employees, their office managers and building management to openly communicate about what the janitorial staff is expected to do, so steps can be taken to keep offices clean, employees healthy and productivity where it needs to be."

The Monitor also indicates, however, that while employees are taking greater interest in maintaining their own offices, they may be focusing in the wrong areas due to misperceptions about where janitorial teams concentrate their professional cleaning efforts.

The Monitor found that 33 percent of workers believe the floor is the least clean area of their individual workspace, yet 85 percent of building managers include daily vacuuming on their janitorial team's task list. Other areas of employee concern include the trash can area (20 percent) and the door (10 percent).

However, building management reports that trash area cleaning and basic dusting (including doors) are also among the most commonly included tasks on their janitorial crews' duties. "It's the areas such as mini-blinds, phones, computer keyboards, cluttered areas of desks, and office kitchens that receive less-frequent attention from professional janitorial teams," Bauer noted.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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