Poor hygiene plaguing Australian offices: Study

by John Hilton08 Nov 2016
Do all employees at your office practice healthy hygiene?

If the latest research is anything to go by, there’s a good chance they don’t.

Initial Hygiene has found that less than half of Australian office workers (49%) are washing their hands after using the bathroom.  

Why is this such a big deal?

Poor hand hygiene is the leading cause of office sick days, costing the Australian economy up to $5bn per year. Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation, hand hygiene is "the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs”. 

Dr Lisa Ackerley, a  hygiene expert, said employees should be particularly mindful to not get their smartphones out while using the toilet.

“Bringing your phone into the bathroom may seem like a good distraction from work, but when workers wipe and then simply pick up their phone before washing their hands, their phone becomes a reservoir for germs and bacteria that can actually recontaminate washed hands, said Dr Ackerley.

“A smartphone which is brought into a bathroom will invariably end up with invisible traces of faeces and urine on it. These traces will then transfer to the owner’s hands.” 

Initial Hygiene offers the following five tips to create a healthier workplace:

Encourage staff to leave their phones on desks when using the bathroom

Findings from the study found that 40% of Australian office workers browse the internet while in the bathroom. For those office workers using their smartphones in the toilet, 55% used Facebook, 43% sent messages on WhatsApp, and 22% used the time to play internet games, with 1 in 10 admitting to playing Pokemon Go while on the toilet. 

Help your staff slow down 

The time-poor, distracted and overworked office environments that are still all too common, are likely in part responsible for behaviour like 49% of staff not washing their hands after using the bathroom.

Slowing down, taking care of oneself through adequate sleep, nutrition, taking breaks away from desks etc. will help staff to start taking more care, rather than rushing through their day and skipping over this vital habit.

Feeling overworked can also mean staff are less likely to take sick days when sick, spreading germs like wildfire. Enforcing lunch breaks and providing resources for guided meditations are a couple of measures that can help, but ultimately managers should lead by example and set the tone for a healthy office.  

Swap the biscuit jar for a fruit bowl 

Providing your staff with a healthy option in place of sugary treats will help to remove the temptation and set the tone for a healthier workplace. When catering for meetings or events, look at healthy options.  

Use the Hawthorne Effect to instigate change 

To combat poor hand hygiene in offices and improve office workers’ overall health and wellbeing, Initial Hygiene has launched HygieneConnect, the first fully-integrated monitoring, display and recording system that tracks the handwashing habits of an office, and allows workers to see handwashing compliance levels within their own workplace.

Through the use of HygieneConnect in Europe, the handwashing habits of office workers were improved by up to 50% due to a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect, in which participants in behavioural studies change their behaviour upon discovering that they are being observed.

When office workers saw how many people in their office were actually washing their hands after using the bathroom, handwashing compliance improved by at least 30%. This is a significant increase and shows that if we all take responsibility for our hand hygiene at work, everyone can reap the benefits.

Laughter is the best medicine 

Even fake laughter has been found to improve health and happiness – Don’t forget to take time out of your day to laugh and have fun. 

Related stories:

10,000 steps to a healthier work culture

What employees should be eating (and avoiding)

Why recreational activities should be encouraged at work
 

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