Is Your Office Making You Sick?

Those breathing problems and headaches you've been having? Your work building might be to blame.

Maurie Backman
Maurie Backman
Feb 19, 2019 at 7:03AM
Investment Planning

When you work in an office, germs are unavoidable -- especially during the winter months, when there always seems to be something going around. But it's not just germs that might be plaguing you physically when you're trying to plug away at your desk. It could be that your office itself is making you feel unwell.

It's a problem known as sick building syndrome, and it happens when your physical environment (in this case, your place of work) makes you feel ill. It's also something you should feel free to speak up about before your health worsens.

The problem with office buildings

Many office buildings -- especially high-rise ones -- actually have pretty poor air quality, due in part to the fact that windows are perpetually closed and nothing but recycled air circulates. Furthermore, dust can accumulate in untreated vents, causing you (and workers like you) to regularly breathe it in.

Man in suit at desk holding his throat.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

And let's not discount the possibility of mold and other allergens taking up residence in your place of work. Your office building might have a mold problem even if it appears clean and uncontaminated.

The result? A host of symptoms ranging from respiratory problems to headaches to dizziness. On a basic level, those symptoms might impede your productivity, causing you to fall behind at work through no fault of your own. On a more serious level, you might be putting your health at risk simply by going to work.

Speak up

If you're concerned that your office environment is making you feel ill, you shouldn't stay silent about it -- especially if colleagues of yours have similar complaints. If you bring the problem to the right people's attention, they can check with the building management team (assuming your company rents space) to ensure that proper health protocols are being maintained. If your company owns the building, it might need to sink resources into running air quality tests and addressing issues that are plaguing employees -- but that's a cost it will need to bear if it wants to continue running.

Of course, some people are just naturally sensitive to environmental triggers that aren't necessarily dangerous -- like recycled air as opposed to the fresh kind that flows in through windows. If that's the case, and the folks who are in charge of your office building are doing everything right, you might ask for the option to work from home, at least on a partial basis. And for the days you do go to the office, schedule time to step outside and take some breaks.

That said, if, despite your efforts and those of your company, the situation doesn't seem to improve, your best bet might be to dust off your resume and find work elsewhere. You deserve to feel healthy at the office, and if your current setup doesn't lend itself to that, you're better off moving on than compromising your health.

One final thing: If you have documented health issues and your company refuses to address your complaints, you might consider taking legal action. This especially holds true if a medical professional warns that your current ailments might have long-term repercussions, and nobody in charge took steps to do anything about it.


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