“Fomite” is a medical term that refers to inanimate objects that can carry infectious agents to a new host.  The concept of a fomite in the medical context is a valuable concept that can be applied in management, human resources, and employment context.  It is critical for companies and managers to apply the lessons from fomites in the medical context to the employment context and in developing a company culture:

1. What are fomites in the employment context?

The medical concept of a fomite has many similar applications and lessons for managers.  The effect that fomites in the employment context can have on a workplace culture is enormous, and being able to recognize the difference between a fomite and a virus in the employment context is critical.  Just to be clear – I’m not referring to “fomites” in the medical sense, but am borrowing the term to use in a managerial, human resources, and employment context.

2. Fomites can take many forms in the workplace.

Items that can negatively impact the workplace (which I’ll borrow another medical term and refer to as contagion) can spread through different ways.  The fomite that spread this contagion in the workplace can take many types of forms: other employees, managers, issues, gossip, clients, workplace habits, how meetings are run, and workplace culture.  Fomites, as I use the term here, does not only have to be people, but it could also refer to ideas or practices in the workplace.  Unlike how the term is used in the medical context which refers to inanimate objects, fomites in the workplace can also be an idea or practice.

3. Fomites are not ill-intentioned.

It is important to note that a fomite is not the disease or germ that it is carrying.  The co-worker, employee, or supervisor is not the disease or virus, but they are the ones that are carrying the contagion.  Managers need to remember that the contagion, not the fomites, need to be attacked and eradicated.  Just as in the medical context, the fomite itself is not the virus, but it is instead something that is carrying the virus.

Also, in terms of personnel, fomites are not necessarily toxic employees.  Toxic employees hurt the work environment and company culture and need to be removed from the workplace.  Employees can be fomites when they act a certain way, say certain things, or fall into certain habits without consciously doing so, and this negatively impacts company culture.  However, it may be difficult to distinguish between a fomite and a toxic employee, and managers need to be careful in making this determination.

4. Fomites can spread contagion from outside of the workplace.

Like the medical context, in the employment arena fomites can bring contagion from outside of the workplace in to hurt company culture and employee morale.  Personal issues at home can have negative impacts at work.  Similarly, current events and politics can carry over from outside the employment environment into a company and negatively impact the workplace.  Managers must be careful to keep fomites from bringing outside viruses into the workplace.  However, just like a healthy immune system is exposed to some viruses, a workplace cannot be completely sterile, and a company culture must have some exposure to viruses to build an immunity.

5. Fomites can be critical to the company.

Just as in the medical context, fomites can be items that are critical to a company.  For example, in medical terms, skin is a fomite.  In the employment context, a manager can be a fomite.  Just as a body cannot survive without its skin, a company cannot survive without managers.  The key with recognizing fomites in the employment context is to recognize that it is not the managerial position or person filling that position that needs to be removed.  Companies must protect against the virus, not the fomites.