In the average office the chances are good that at least one person deals with allergies. And often they suffer in silence, as they feel anxious about discussing their allergies and facing criticism or ridicule.
However, as a manager you should be aware of the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act legally requires your company to make 'appropriate accommodations' for those with allergies. And legalities aside you want to provide your team members with a healthy atmosphere to do their jobs and remain productive and satisfied in their position.
To avoid potentially harmful allergic reactions in the office, it’s a good idea to first identify the most common irritants in your workspace, and then take steps to either reduce your employees’ potential contact or ban them completely.
Here are the four most common allergens in the average American workplace. Keep an eye out for these, and make whatever accommodations you can to ensure your employees time at the office is safe and productive.
Plants and Flowers
While flowers look lovely in the office and some plants actually help cleanse the air both also have the potential to cause allergic reactions. If you want to add greenery to the office try adding a few species that have the lowest pollen counts, such as hostas, orchids and hydrangeas . You might also want to distribute a list that details the flowers and plants that other employees are allowed to bring in.
If even low-pollen greenery agitates someone’s allergies, consider removing the plants from the office completely or relocating them somewhere that employee doesn’t go.
The first (and easiest) way to manage dust allergens is to hire a cleaning company to do regular office-wide cleanings. Consistent carpet vacuuming and cleaning is helpful in reducing allergens in the workplace, especially when it comes to dust. However, since dust can often get trapped in hidden places—like blinds, around computer hardware and in light fixtures—be sure the cleaners tackle dust-prone spots regularly.
Another investment that may be helpful is installing a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your HVAC system, which will help to clean the air in specific areas. Try to station employees with allergies near one of these, so they can have the best working environment possible.
Food is another serious allergen in the workplace that often gets overlooked. This is especially true for smaller businesses that don’t provide meals, but host occasional potlucks or catering. While eating with colleagues is one way to build healthy work relationships, individuals with food allergies could become seriously ill.
To prevent any dietary issues, find out if anyone has allergies before ordering food for your office or coordinating a potluck. The eight most allergenic foods are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. With potlucks, have contributing employees list the ingredients on a card that’s kept with the food.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that, “In the United States, as many as three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.” So if you’ve considered making your office a pet-friendly workplace, you may want to think again.
While the trend of bringing furry friends to work has its perks, it also has the potential to wreak havoc on employees with allergies. If you have coworkers who are allergic to animals, consider placing lint rollers in strategic areas around the office (like the break room) for communal use.
By taking small steps to avoid allergens in the workplace, your employees can feel more comfortable coming to work every day. But remember, these aren’t the only irritants that may exacerbate someone’s allergies or asthma! Make an effort to find out what allergens your fellow employees have, and reassure them that making the workplace healthy and safe for everyone is a big priority.