The next time you watch the office cleaning team vacuuming the area around your desk, and diligently wiping away yesterday’s lunch from your keyboard, you should consider more than a simple word of thanks because clean and hygienic office environments boost careers.

“Most desk-bound employees instinctively know that a well-cleaned office is good for their health, but we usually only think in terms of not being exposed to pathogens that will make us noticeably ill. We seldom give a thought to the less obvious, more intangible benefits of a sparkling office,” says Rika van Rooyen of leading corporate hygiene provider, Bidvest Steiner.

“Office hygiene is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re deciding whether to take that job, but as you settle in to your work area, it’s one of the first things that you’ll notice. And with good reason because the way the office is maintained has a great deal to do with your general health, your productivity and, ultimately, how successful you are in your career,” she adds.

Here are several reasons why a hygienic office is so important that it should feature in your assessment of potential employers:

* Your general health – everybody knows that offices are hotbeds of infection simply because they concentrate people in one place. One of the key ways in which infection is passed on is via surfaces contaminated with either viruses or, in the case of kitchens and bathrooms, bacteria.

Research by the Hygiene Council shows that viruses like the H1N1 virus can stay active on surfaces for up to 48 hours and people who work in offices are exposed to around 400 times the level of contamination found on a toilet seat when they are sitting at their desks. Desks, telephones, door handles and keyboards contain many thousands of germs and this again underscores the importance of regular hand washing for at least 20 seconds.

* Your productivity – a messy, cluttered and dirty office environment is not conducive to productivity. In fact, academic research at Sheffield Hallam University concludes that there is a definite link between office comfort and hygiene (including factors like air quality, lighting and noise) and productivity.

* Your mental attitude – a related matter to the above is your mental attitude. A workplace that is unhygienic will not register as “safe” or “caring”. It’s therefore likely to create stress in its own right, adding to the inevitable stresses of working. The obvious result is a toxic spiral of negativity.

* Innovative thinking – research has shown that a healthy office space complete with plants and open windows is more conducive to thinking out the box. At the Chelsea Flower Show, the ‘Living Office’ is a practical demonstration of this link.

“Hygienic work environments offer benefits to both employees and employers that we are only now beginning to appreciate,” concludes Van Rooyen.

Bidvest Steiner is a service-orientated organisation providing innovative hygiene solutions to a wide spectrum of businesses and institutions across all industries throughout South Africa.