We’ve all seen the signs in restaurants: “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.” But what about other environments — especially offices and other workplaces, where most of us spend more of our waking hours than anywhere else?
After all, offices, from desktops to doorknobs, are rife with the germs that make employees sick. Just as with restaurants, the answer begins with clean hands — but it doesn’t end there.
We’re Working in Germ City
Well-designed offices can make your workforce more efficient, effective and, in the very best of cases, happier, too. But offices – especially if among the seventy percent with an open office design – can also be very efficient and effective incubators and communicators of illness. Worse yet, the now-popular “open office” and shared desk space designs only make the problem worse, taking a huge toll on productivity.
According to a study from the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC), employee absenteeism amounts to four missed days of work per employee annually. Even more concerning is the fact that employee “presenteeism” (coming to work feeling ill) leaves workers unproductive at the office for 57.5 days per year.
What the CDC Suggests
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that effective handwashing “is like a do-it-yourself vaccine” for your employees. Which is all well and good, except that you can’t exactly have workers running to the washroom every time they touch their keyboard or sneeze. So what’s an employer to do?
The easy answer is to place wall-mounted dispensers with hand sanitizer in key common areas, including break rooms, conference rooms, lobbies and reception areas. Bathrooms, of course, should be equipped both with anti-bacterial (extra mild) soap and hand sanitizer.
A good hand hygiene program will help you reduce employee illness, absenteeism, and presenteeism. The CDC reports that keeping hands clean can reduce respiratory diseases (such as the common cold) by 21% and more serious ailments, like diarrhea, by 58%.
How to Get a Handle on Hand Hygiene
Unfortunately, left to their own devices, people just don’t wash their hands enough. Studies show that less than a third of men and only two-thirds of women wash their hands after using a restroom outside the home. And it’s not enough to simply supply hand sanitizer. Organizations need to make a concerted, consistent effort to:
- Educate: Even simple employee handwashing training and communication can pay big dividends, whether it’s simple printed pieces, email instructions, in-person team meetings, or short “explainer” videos.
- Equip: The Centers for Disease Control says the most important way to prevent the transmission of dangerous diseases is to frequently wash your hands with soap and water and/or use a hand sanitizer. If soap and water are not available it is recommended to use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol or contains a “persistent antiseptic.” As an employer or office manager, you have to make is easy for employees to maintain hand hygiene by offering hand sanitizer in open areas along with adequately stocked, quality hand soap in the restrooms.
- Encourage: As with all corporate culture programs, instilling a “culture of cleanliness” isn’t a one-and-done affair. The communications and training mentioned above need to continue at regular intervals. Participation in programs should be incentivized. Finally, organizational leadership, from the corner office to local managers, needs to speak to, and personally practice, hand hygiene.
Does your organization have office hygiene well in hand? If not, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see a positive impact in office life, and also on your bottom line.