Have you touched an office phone, light switch, keyboard, doorknob or copier today? Depending on how clean they were, you could become sick in a few days or bring bacteria to your co-workers and family.

After 35 years of 'cleaning up' after others, Stephen Collins, founder of Stephco Cleaning & Restoration based in Holbrook, Mass., has learned an important lesson he likes to share: There really is a direct correlation between a clean work environment and improved employee health.

"Winter cleaning may be more important than Spring cleaning," Collins notes. "Commercial buildings are buttoned up tight in the winter, but reduced fresh air flow along and the arrival of the cold and flu season means workplaces are an ideal place for the growth and spread of germs – and a dramatic jump in sick days. Besides a person's health, cleanliness of the work environment has a direct effect on employees' health, mood, productivity and attendance."

He adds that the extensive bacteria found on any given surface can be a primary cause of illness. And depending on the surface, a bacteria's lifespan can vary from just a few hours to several days or even months.

Healthcare experts say that cold and flu germs can live from a few minutes to several days outside the body. They are more likely to stay active on hard surface — such as stainless steel and plastic — than on soft surfaces or fabrics and flu viruses live longer than cold viruses.

Temperature and humidity also have an effect on the life cycle. Bacteria could live on soft surfaces for days in the case of a sponge, weeks on clothing, or months on carpet. Steam cleaning of these softer surfaces kills bacteria quickly.

Regularly sanitizing all surfaces will reduce bacteria, but washing hands regularly is considered the best way to fight against germs.

Factors that lead to an unhealthy work environment:

• Employees are working longer hours, often in space that's teeming with bacteria;

• Reduced office space forces employees to work in closer proximity to colleagues – shorter distances for germs to travel;

• An increasing number of workers eat in their work space;

• People who sneeze, cough or yawn without covering their mouth;

• Workers who leave the restroom without thoroughly washing their hands.