Health

7 ways to avoid getting sick at work this winter

We all need a reminder to cover our cough every once in a while.

Credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages

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There’s an eerie feeling that encroaches on offices during the winter months—everyone is sniffling and drinking hot tea, and there’s the incessant cough that seems to travel from one person to the next. You can’t help but think that the next cold or flu is coming right for your desk. Before you decide to pack up and work from home forever (if that’s even a possibility), we have tips that you can incorporate into your everyday routine that’ll keep you healthy and happy at work all winter long.

1. Wash your hands

Wash Hands
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Wash your hands after using common spaces.

In many businesses, the public bathroom features a prominent sign reading, “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.” You should follow this advice—even if you’re not serving the public. Studies show that simple hand washing can reduce the risk of spreading colds by 21 percent.

In choosing a hand soap, skip the ones labeled “antibacterial” that contain triclosan, as exposure to the chemical is linked to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics—making infections harder to treat. For a non-drying, fresh-smelling option, treat yourself and your coworkers to Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap. It’s made with aloe vera and olive oil, and free of controversial ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and artificial colors—and comes in 24 pleasing, essential oil-derived fragrances.

In the event that you can’t wash up after working in a common area or shaking hands with someone, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that, again, doesn’t contain triclosan. Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer uses ethyl alcohol to rid your hands of germs, and ingredients like aloe vera leaf juice and glycerin to add moisture back into your skin.

2. Kill germs around your desk

Clean Desk
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Wipe your desk down frequently to kill germs.

There’s a reason everyone always says that you’re only as clean as your work space... Wait, no one says that, but they should, because your office desk collects dust and bacteria on a daily basis. More scary is that most people clean their desks wrong by not leaving the disinfectant on long enough. The CDC explains that “disinfection usually requires the product to remain on the surface for a certain period of time (e.g., letting it stand for three to five minutes).”

Wipes may seem convenient, but if you really want to kill germs, you need to make sure the surface area is covered in the liquid for the instructed time on the packaging, which likely means you’ll be using more than one wipe. Lysol Disinfecting Wipes are a good choice—they claim to kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria, including eight cold and flu viruses, when the solution they impart stays wet for three minutes.

A spray can make things easier because you can cover the surface area much faster, which you either just leave to dry or wipe away with a cloth or paper towel, depending on the instructions on the packaging. For a trusted disinfectant spray, look (again) to Lysol, which claims to kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria when left on surfaces for three minutes—and it doesn’t need to be wiped away. The spray also prevents mold and mildew, and neutralizes bad odors caused by bacteria.

3. Clean your electronics, too

Sanitize Phone

Clean your electronics with a cloth and disinfectant.

If you’re like 99 percent of the people out there (no need to fact-check), you probably carry your cellphone with you everywhere. The number of times your phone hits the ground, touches your face, or sits on a table at a public place is a bit alarming if you can’t remember the last time you cleaned it. And then there’s your computer keyboard and mouse, which are designed to be touched, and therefore can get pretty germy pretty fast. To properly clean your phone, smart watch, computer mouse, or other tech items that you frequently handle, we recommend that you mix 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, with distilled water in a small spray bottle. Then, spray the mixture onto a soft microfiber cloth that won’t scratch screens and thoroughly wipe your devices (do not spray them directly!). It’s that simple—but it can save you from illness-causing bacteria.

4. Keep yourself warm

Space Heater
Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

Stay warm with a comfortable sweater or a space heater.

While being cold doesn’t necessarily cause you to get sick, it can sure make work uncomfortable and exasperate any symptoms you’re already experiencing.

If you don’t currently have a cardigan or sweater that you keep at your desk chair, you’ll want one now—but remember to take it home and wash it regularly, especially if you’ve been sick. The Barefoot Dreams CozyChic Lite Circle Cardigan is a favorite at Nordstrom for a reason. The ultra-soft synthetic sweater is warm and cozy enough to wear around the house, but won’t look out of place at the office. It’s lightweight and comes in women’s sizes x-small/small to large/x-large and nine neutral colors that match any outfit. For an equally cozy option in men’s sizes x-small to 4x-large, check out Nordstrom’s Regular Fit Cashmere Quarter Zip Pullover, which has seven colors to choose from. The cozy cashmere will keep you warm at the office without diminishing your style.

If it's permitted at your office, you may also consider a small space heater to make your space toastier. We recommend the Lasko 754200, which won our Best Value spot after testing because it’s light, powerful, and affordable. Say goodbye to chilly feet!

5. Don’t forget to drink water

Brita
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Stay hydrated with an insulated water bottle.

You may have no trouble remembering to drink copious amounts of coffee throughout the day, but water may slip your mind. Dehydration may cause dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms, leading to you having a less productive work day and potentially decreasing your strength to fight off an illness. To keep you hydrated throughout the day, you’ll want to make a water bottle your new best friend.

After testing, we recommend the Brita Stainless Steel Filtering Water Bottle. The Brita has a slim build for slipping in and out of car cup holders and bag pockets, but it holds 20 ounces and has a wide mouth to accommodate ice cubes. It also keeps your water cold for up to 24 hours, so you’ll never have a lukewarm sip during the work day.

Get the Brita BB11 Premium Filtering Water Bottle on Amazon for $29.99

6. Be mindful of your food

Rubbermaid
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Seal your food in tight with food storage containers.

It may seem like common sense, but it’s worth reminding that you never want to share food with coworkers who are sick or think they may be coming down with something—and this includes dipping your fingers in a communal candy dish. It's also important to refrigerate the salad you brought for lunch or the fruit salad you’ll scarf down mid-morning when you realize lunch is too far away. Fresh foods are susceptible to spoiling if they’re left out above 40°F (the temperature of the fridge) for more than two hours, according to the USDA.

To keep your food locked up tight in the shared work fridge, you need well-made food storage containers. For an affordable set with tons of size variety, we recommend the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids Food Storage Containers. This 42-piece set is made of thick, durable plastic, is designed for the microwave, and keeps food fresher for longer, according to our tests.

Get the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids Food Storage Containers (42-Piece Set) on Amazon for $25.98

7. Cover your cough and sneezes

Cover Sneeze
Credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue.

It sounds simple enough to cover a cough and a sneeze, but everyone has watched someone openly cough in the office, causing coworkers to slowly retreat. Covering your cough isn’t going to keep you from getting sick, but it may keep you from passing along your cold to someone else and it’s a simple way to keep your office environment cleaner. It’s good practice to not cover your mouth or nose with your bare hand, which you’re likely to touch on something else before you get to a sink or hand sanitizer to clean those germs away. In a pinch, your upper sleeve is your go-to, but keeping some tissues nearby is even better. Our favorite are the Puffs Ultra Soft Facial Tissues, which feel more like a lightweight handkerchief than an easily-shredded piece of cotton. Once you’re done with a tissue, dispose of it in the waste basket instead of keeping it on you for future sneezes.

Get the Puffs Ultra Soft Facial Tissues (4 count) on Amazon for $6.49

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