A reader writes: "Many co-workers don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. I've tried subtle hints such as lathering my hands thoroughly, but they..."

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Q: Many co-workers don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.

I’ve tried subtle hints such as lathering my hands thoroughly, but they just stand there talking away. Then they come over to my desk and use either my computer or phone. I’ve already been sick three times in the last few months. Should I talk to human resources or say something?

A: Subtle hints don’t typically work when it comes to important communication on the job. What does work is talking about ourselves in a way that does not make anyone else feel blamed.

For instance, saying something such as, “I get sick easily. I’ve noticed you have a great immune system and don’t worry about things like hand washing. I’m going to leave a bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk and request you use it before using my phone, computer, etc. I don’t want to miss any more work.”

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When we want to influence people at work, there’s a simple recipe you can follow that generates powerful results:

1. Try first to see the world through your colleagues’ eyes. Obviously, not washing their hands is not creating a problem for your co-workers.

2. Don’t assume others are out to get you. Most of your co-workers are probably not trying to kill you via a germ-infested computer. At worst, they’re tuned out to proactive hygiene.

3. Focus on what you need, not what anyone else is doing wrong.

4. Make suggestions that take care of you but don’t blame anyone else.

You could ask human resources to put signs up reminding co-workers to wash their hands. However, the folks who are not washing their hands probably won’t be persuaded by the reminders.

During a long career, you’ll have many challenges to figure out how to take care of yourself when co-workers make poor choices.

If you can ask your colleagues for help without making them bad guys, you can stop the spread of germs and blame in your office.

The last word(s)

Q: I said some things I regret to a co-worker. Is it too late to apologize?

A: No, an apology is not a time-limited opportunity.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube