Keeping clean and promoting hygiene in the workplace isn’t something to address only during flu season or when employees are buzzing over a public health situation in the news like COVID-19 (coronavirus). Promoting a healthy workplace is serious business for employers to address year-round – year in and year out.

Clear, consistent employee communication and education can go a long way in protecting your workforce and keeping employees calm, informed, productive and healthy. The goal is to provide messaging that promotes illness prevention and informs your workforce about resources available to help them. Done right, you’ll let your employees know you’ve got their backs without causing unnecessary alarm.

The Cost of Illness-related Lost Productivity

How important is hygiene in the workplace? Illness-related lost productivity cost U.S. employers $530 billion in 2017 alone, according to a report from the Integrated Benefits Institute. That’s on top of the nearly $880 billion that employers paid in health care benefits for employees and dependents. Counting sick time, workers’ compensation, disability and family and medical leave, employers covered about 893 million days for employees and their dependents due to illness.

Employers must take stronger action to enhance and preserve the health of the workforce, IBI President Thomas Parry said:

“To put this in further context, the cost of poor health to employers is greater than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe.”

The Value of Employee Communication in Promoting Wellness

Experts say the most sure-fire ways for employers to control those costs are with workplace hygiene programs and solid employee communication to promote wellness. Encouraging employees to take simple steps like cleaning their hands frequently and properly, staying home when they’re sick, using a tissue (or an elbow) to shield others from coughs and sneezes and cleaning their phones and keyboards can go a long way.

PartnerComm has extensive experience creating educational and communication materials to get the message across. Employees want to know you have their backs by promoting and keeping a clean and healthy workplace and making sure they get help when they need it – how to get it, where to go and what to do. It’s important to include ample employee communication about health benefits, time off and work-from-home policies.

Digital signs, window clings, text messages, emails, videos and podcasts can come together in an effective mix to engaging communication to support your employees.

Handwashing and Other Workplace Hygiene Best Practices

Workplace hygiene is top of mind for anyone trying to safeguard their wellness because the average office worker spends at least eight hours a day in their office or work facility. Being exposed to germs at work is a constant concern because employees are exposed to a multitude of fellow workers, delivery people and visitors to their offices. While avoiding getting physically sick is the chief concern of employees, worrying about it can create anxiety and cause mental health problems as well.

Most workplace hygiene tips are common sense, like washing your hands; shielding your sneeze with your elbow or a tissue; staying home from work if you’re sick; and limiting how much you touch your face, eyes and mouth, especially during cold and flu season.

But how many people actually wash their hands properly? Public health experts say you need to use soap and need to vigorously wash your hands for 15-20 seconds to effectively kill germs. A Michigan State University study found that only 5% of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough. Also, 33% didn’t use soap – and 10% didn’t wash their hands at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider handwashing so vital to public health that it’s produced fact sheets and advisories to educate people about the scientific reasons to do it. In one advisory headlined, “Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives,” the CDC says proper communication and education about handwashing can:

  • Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%.
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%.
  • Reduce colds and respiratory illnesses by 16-21%.

Among the best practices the CDC recommends for employers to use for workplace hygiene and limiting the spread of illness are:

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent, and make sure employees are aware and educated about those policies.
  • Maintain flexible work policies that permit employees to stay home to care for sick family members.
  • Perform thorough and routine cleaning in the workplace – and that includes phones, keyboards, touchscreens and all digital devices.
  • Advise employees who travel to take extra precautions.