"Mind the Bug" - Staying Healthy in the Office Environment

With the advent of central heating, hot water and food abundance, modern man has forgotten how to protect the immune system effectively from seasonal bugs including coughs, colds and flu.

Whilst our office spaces might be open plan, airy, light and comfortable, they are very often regulated with air conditioning and or heating, with little opportunity to open a window. This leaves each one of us vulnerable to either transmitting or receiving the seasonal cold or flu bug.  If the office environment does not zap us with the bug, public transport will pass it along readily when we happen to get into the wrong carriage!  Never mind, “mind the gap” at this time of year it should be “mind the bug!”


Watch my video on this topic here!



What is the Immune System?

The immune system is a network running throughout the body that includes lymph nodes and vessels, the skin as the first line of defence, the gut, and the thymus gland.  It is divided into two aspects, and can be likened to an army – the first line of defence which is the non specific immune is present at birth and is activated as the baby passes through the birth canal. The first line of defence is quick to respond by attacking antibodies, breaking them down and removing them from the body.

The second line of defence is the specific immune.  This is slow to respond as it distinguishes between friend and foe and then having identified the antigen as foreign, it raises antibodies to fight and remove the identified antigens.  Once the antigen has been removed the memory is stored in the system and if the same antigen attacks again, the immune responds from the non specific immune, or the first line of defence.


What compromises the Immune System?

The immune is working actively most of the time to identify antigens and essentially protect us from deadly threats. Our office environment, whilst providing for an efficient and effective work space, also harbours a plethora of potential antigens in the form of cleaning chemicals, electromagnetic radiation from all the Wifi driven photocopiers, computers, printers and other normal office equipment. Of course, you cannot forget about a good dose of capitalistic stress as everyone frantically strives to meet, and in some cases exceed targets, missing lunch in the process and eating the coffee station biscuits to replenish blood sugar.  Combined with dealing with conflict that has occurred, the toxic boss, as well as company culture that is not quite what it says it is, all these factors impact the healthy functioning of the immune system.

Whilst I might be exaggerating a little, the point I am making is that stress is one of the most significant factors compromising immune strength. 


What other factors compromise immune strength in the office environment?

  • Poor dietary habits – eating dead food, in a hurry that has no nutritional value, such as processed foods, microwave meals etc
  • Poor or lack of sleep
  • Lack of movement and exercise
  • Exposure to electromagnetic radiation within the office from Wifi, mobile phones, printers and photocopiers
  • Pollutants from household chemicals


What are the markers of a poorly functioning immune system?

There are several markers of a poorly functioning immune.  Some of the markers include:

  • Feeling run down or under par for most of the time
  • Poor resistance – repeated colds, regularly contracting flu
  • Inability to shake off a cold or flu
  • Repeated bouts of urinary tract Infection
  • Exhaustion and weariness


How do you protect and stimulate good immune health?

The following are some key points to consider to protect and stimulate immune health:There are so many things we can be doing to increase our immune systems, especially at work. Here are some tips for you that you can implement today.


Manage stress effectively:

  • Identify what causes you stress and put steps in place to minimise it
  • Think positively, replacing any negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Communicate assertively and positively.  Be ready to forgive.
  • Dress up warm and walk outside in nature during the lunch break, irrelevant of weather.  Even if you work in a city, getting outside into a local park is generally possible and very beneficial to immune health.


Hydrate and eat a healthy diet:

  • Water is essential for the flow of blood and for a healthy immune.  Keep a glass of water on your desk and sip at it all day long.  Aim to drink 1.5-2 litres of water daily to keep yourself hydrated
  • Limit coffee to one cup a day.  Replace with green or herbal teas
  • Take your full lunch break to eat a nutritious meal, for example a hearty soup or salad
  • If you are getting a cold, drink lots of hot water with lemon and ginger to hydrate the body and provide the necessary vitamin C.


Body conditioning:

  • Movement increases the flow of lymphatic fluid whilst conditioning the heart and lungs.   As the immune system is the only system in the body that does not have its own pump use natural breaks to move the body, shake it all out and breathe deeply
  • Hold meetings standing up, or if possible outside walking as you talk through agenda points
  • Exercise before or after work several times a week.  This helps condition the body, keeping the immune healthy and alert.



  • Get a good night’s sleep to help the body get adequate rest and make any necessary repair
  • Avoid pushing yourself when you are suffering from a cold or flu to enable the body to recuperate quickly.  Take bed rest if needed.
  • Work from home when you have a cold in this way you will not spread germs through the air conditioning to your colleagues.  Nor will you share them with fellow passengers on your chosen mode of transport!
  • Boost yourself with Vitamin C when you feel under the weather.  Vitamin C will stimulate the immune, helping the body fight off the ensuing cold. 
  • As dairy is mucous forming, avoid it when you have a cold.



Rachel Shackleton is an entrepreneur who owns and manages Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. Working with local and multinational organisations, she is a public speaker and trainer in the spheres of leadership, communication and customer excellence. She ensures sustainable productivity and profitability through healthy self-management and leadership practices, ensuring a focused and successful workforce.






New here? I write about leadership development, communication and customer excellence, including health and well-being at work. You can read similar blogs here:


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