The world has changed since we last looked. What worried us then is different to now.
Back then, germs were a fact of life. You caught a cold, you sneezed your way through it. And everyone else caught it too.
Now you catch a cold, you can bring a whole business down.
Heavyweight experts working to a deadline – one of them conks, the whole project goes down the tubes. The whole team off sick, total disaster.
The germs were always there. But with expectations of 100% performance all of the time, that’s rapidly becoming unachievable.
No wonder we’re all worried.
And people assets these days are expensive. They need to be motivated. Constantly persuaded to stay and not join the competition.
The threat we dare not ignore
Which is why bosses spend thousands on workplace wellness programmes. To keep staff sweet and wanting to perform.
With things like flu vaccinations, health and lifestyle coaching, stop smoking programmes, nap rooms, fresh fruit and vegetables, stress reduction programmes, fitness programmes and gym membership, on-site medical clinics, weight loss clinics, therapy and massage, right down to company fitness trackers.
Well, well, well.
Workplace wellness – all about wellbeing.
Nothing about KEEPING staff well and healthy healthy. Or protecting them from stress and health threats. Not the slightest mention of AVOIDING germs.
Yet germs have always been with us – and always will be.
But because we’re expected to perform 100% of the time, nobody would ever dare let a germ slow them down. Not unless it was serious. Doctor, medicine and maybe even hospital. Certainly days off.
Which is unacceptable, and possibly a career threat – would our jobs still be there when we came back?
Unwell at work – more costly than sick leave
So if germs ever strike us, we try to ignore them. Shuffling in to work, feeling like death, determined to go through the motions. “Presenteeism” it’s called – 10 times more costly than regular sick leave.
We grit our teeth and the childhood memories kick in – Nan and Grandad never gave in to colds like this. They had them, sure – but seemed better able to cope. Stronger somehow.
Which indeed they were. More resilient too.
And not because our lifestyles are softer. We don’t have the same immunities that they had. We’re more sensitive. More susceptible to infections as well.
Not that we’re worried about it. We just go to the Doc, get some pills – and hey-ho, it’s off to work we go.
Antibiotics, right? The magic medicines Nan and Grandad never had. All-round fixer-uppers – we strong-arm the Doc for them for every little ailment. Grow up with them through all the childhood illnesses. So that by the time they’re twenty, the average teenager has been on antibiotics 17 times.
Which means our bodies have an easier time than our grand-parents’ did. Growing up without the hard fights that they went through. Making us softer, gentler, weaker.
Without all the immunities that they had too.
Atom bombs in our gut
Every time we take antibiotics, our microbiome goes through a major upheaval. Down in our gut are 12 trillion bacteria living in harmony with us – aiding our digestion, creating proteins, managing our immune systems and a thousand other things.
Releasing an antibiotic into that lot is like setting off an atomic bomb. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria – and they do. Taking out the bad guys giving us a hard time – but taking out a lot of the good guys too.
Effective, yes – but not so good at targeting only the right ones. Sure there’s thousands of others to replace the casualties . But often the rarer ones are wiped out completely. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. We recover from our illness, yes – but our bodies never fully return to the way they were.
So that generation to generation, our immunities diminish. The good bacteria that defend us from a particular kind of bad ones just aren’t there any more.
Not really a problem because our lifestyles are so much better than our grand-parents’ were. Better food, better living conditions, better hygiene standards, better medical care.
Except that’s not our only exposure to antibiotics.
Super efficient growth boosters
Because agriculture uses them as growth boosters, they’re in everything we eat as well. Micro-doses in all our meat, fish, vegetables, cereals, grain and fruit.
Which work on our bodies in exactly the same way as the farmers use them for. They fatten us up.
Right there is the greatest overlooked problem of our time. Doctors are worried about our high exposure to antibiotics because bacteria are becoming resistant to them. More rapidly than they would like, our miracle medicines are no longer making people better.
But they are making them fatter. Fatter and fatter and fatter. It’s staring us right in the face but nobody twigs it. We’re swallowing small amounts of highly efficient growth boosters every day, not realising that’s why two thirds of us are overweight or obese.
And what does obesity do? Sets our not-quite-as-strong-as-our-grandparents’-bodies on the long and very bumpy road to asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. A road on which antibiotics no longer work – our miracle defences are taken away from us.
Which should explain why we ought to be worried about workplace germs.
So many of us herded together in the same space – breathing the same air and touching the same objects. It’s the ideal opportunity to catch each other’s germs and pass them on.
And those germs are there alright. Just as they always have been. In the air and on surfaces we share – touchscreens, keypads, light switches, door handles. Waiting to have a go at our less resilient and increasingly overweight bodies.
The nightly antidote
Yet overnight, those germs can be eliminated. In addition to the usual vacuuming and wipe downs, just follow up by misting with hydrogen peroxide and the whole place is sterilised. Germs are oxidised to nothing, there are simply no illnesses to catch.
OK, so it adds a few hundred to the monthly cleaning bill.
But the thousands saved by not trying to do our jobs tied down by a tummy upset or lingering flu? By not making mistakes or missing vital deadlines? Or infecting our high-powered colleagues on the tight deadline job that MUST be finished on time or the contract falls through the slats?
Yeah, we never worried about workplace germs before.
But we should now.
Unless of course we’re all safe and sterilised.
Then we’re not worried, we’re laughing.