New study highlights urgent need for office hand hygiene

You could call it White Collar Grime – after all, the dirty hands, desks, doorknobs and restrooms in U.S. offices “steal” some $260 billion from American businesses annually, in the form of health-related losses. The sixth-annual Hygiene and Health Report, (conducted by a global leader in workplace and public hygiene expertise, along with the United Nation’s entity Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council) shows that while many organizations are aware of the challenges poor office hygiene poses, this is still a significant issue.

Latest research uncovers productivity-limiting hygiene problems

It’s well-documented that preventable sick days comprise a huge portion of the health-related business losses cited above. This new research, however, also highlights less obvious impacts on office productivity, and related profitability, due to hygiene challenges.

Consider the fact that 24% of all office employees actually avoid using the toilet at work, specifically because of hygiene concerns. Of those, 46% specifically site unhygienic or messy toilets as the main reason they avoid their own workplace restrooms. That doesn’t mean, however, that office workers don’t need to or want to use the toilet – they would simply rather leave themselves uncomfortable (and likely much less focused and productive) than have to deal with unclean bathroom conditions.

Hygiene impacts business well beyond the office

Employees aren’t the only ones concerned with cleanliness – your customers are, too, and that may be hurting your bottom line. Take the restaurant industry as one example. The new study shows that 40% of Americans say that the prospect of dirty toilets – and even the lack of sufficient hand hygiene products – is enough to keep them from eating out.

Simple solutions are right at hand

That last finding – the one indicating that there’s an unmet desire for effective, easy ways to keep one’s hands clean – speaks to the fact that fixing business-related hygiene issues isn’t rocket science, or even particularly difficult. It does, however, require both knowing what employees and customers want, and educating them on what they need.

In short, it requires a user-centered approach to hygiene. By exploring the users’ wants and needs first, companies could know what the research shows – for instance, that 53% prefer to dry their hands with paper towels. So even the simple provision of good soap, paper towels, and supplemental hand sanitizer in your bathrooms can make an immediate impact on employee satisfaction and customer patronage.

Better products + better plans = better outcomes

Even the best products won’t cure cleanliness issues on their own. The “Three Es” of Equip, Educate and Evaluate are always needed, as part of an on-going plan to create an organizational culture of cleanliness:

1. Equip
People want to have clean hands (in fact, the Hygiene and Health Report found that three-quarters of people feel uncomfortable around others when they don’t feel their hands are clean). So make hand washing easy – keep your soap and paper towel dispensers well-stocked, and place hand sanitizer at key points around the workplace.

2. Educate
We may take it for granted that everyone is equally concerned with handwashing – but the research says we’d be wrong. To correct the knowledge gaps (and poor attitudes) about hand health, every organization should have an on-going education program, communicating both the facts and benefits of keeping your hands clean.

3. Evaluate
It’s not enough to just put a program in place – you need to monitor its progress
and get regular feedback from its participants. Are handwashing supplies being used? Are the bathrooms being kept clean? Are people aware that there’s a conscious program in place – and how do they feel about it?

Of course, research doesn’t only indicate that there’s a real need for better hand hygiene – it also shows that there’s a real payoff, too. As the National Institute of Health puts it, “Providing a comprehensive, targeted, yet simple-to-execute hand hygiene program significantly reduces health care claims and increases employee satisfaction.”

What’s your plan?

Essity: Hygiene News Release
Essity: Hygiene And Health Report
NIH: Impact of a Comprehensive Workplace Hand Hygiene Program