If you dress for your office environment rather than the weather outside, it’s probably because you, like most people in developed countries, spend 90% of your time indoors. Whether or not you realize it, the cleanliness of your office space is an important part of your physical health and psychological well-being.

Office Cleanliness & Physical Health

Not suprisingly, given how much time we use them, offices have been shown to be hotbeds of bacteria. In a study conducted by San Diego State University and the University of Arizona, more than 500 species of bacteria were found in the more than 90 offices that were tested. Sounds like the perfect storm for unnecessary sick days.

A clean office environment should be a priority if you want to stay healthy and productive. Regular and proper cleaning will reduce bacteria on surfaces and increase indoor air-quality, leading to a healthier environment. Another important component of office cleanliness is ensuring that your office-mates are aware of the proper way to wash their hands. Yes, it may feel a little strange to lead a group of adults in a “how to wash your hands” tutorial, but you may be surprised to find how few people actually know how to wash their hands the right way. (Check out these easy and helpful hand-washing instructions from the Center for Disease Control.) After you have laid the proper groundwork with hand-washing, make sure all the frequently touched surfaces around your office are getting regularly disinfected. If your building gets cleaned once a week, you may want to disinfect a few other times throughout the week or even daily during flu season. This will help to kill bacteria that is beginning to make the rounds. If you want to take this one step further, carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use after contact with things that might be particularly germ-laden, like door handles or trash bins.

Office Cleanliness & Mental Health

Reducing harmful bacteria on a microbial level isn’t the only benefit of having a clean office. Simply being able to work in a clean environment can take a mental load off of you. Licensed Mental Health Clinician Jennifer Baxt says that, in addition to exercising, eating well, and all the other factors we usually associate with increased health, having a clean space can help one “feel happier” and “more relaxed”. Physical clutter can lead to mental clutter and, conversely, an orderly space can help one relax, focus, and be more productive. Take a look at your desk. Is it clean and organized or does it look like the Unabomber recently paid you a visit? If your desk is tidy, are there piles of papers everywhere? Some of us can be “neat” packrats by simply arranging our clutter into piles. This is not the same as being organized. In “The Benefits of a Clean and Tidy Desk Space”, Lodewijk van den Broek emphasizes that a clean (and essentially empty) desk increases one’s ability to concentrate, reduces stress, and projects an image of control and confidence to clients and colleagues. Baxt and van den Broek are giving voice to things that most of us intuitively recognize but have to consciously focus on to make a reality.

If your mental and physical health are suffering at work, it might be a good time to assess your office environment and examine how it’s helping or hindering you.