How Hand Hygiene Promotes Employee Health and Well-Being

Try these tips to make clean hands a healthy habit.

In the workplace, shared spaces mean shared germs. Meeting rooms, doorknobs, office equipment and other common areas can spread germs quickly. For sick and underperforming employees, performance suffers — and that hurts everyone. For shift workers, unscheduled absenteeism costs more than $2,500 per year per employee. In addition, presenteeism — being on the job but not fully functioning because of illness or medical conditions — can reduce individual productivity by one-third or more, according to Harvard Business Review.

Handwashing is an easy and effective way to prevent the spread of germs and keep employees healthy. The use of hand sanitizer has been shown to reduce the likelihood of illness: A 2016 study found that a comprehensive yet simple workplace hand hygiene program significantly reduces health care claims for hand hygiene preventable infections (e.g., cold and flu).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands often, especially during key times when you are likely to get and spread germs. In workplaces, these times include before eating lunch or preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Here are ways you can help your employees make clean hands a healthy habit.

1. Post handwashing signs as reminders

Raise awareness about handwashing by placing signage in highly visible public spaces around the office, such as in restrooms and on bulletin boards.

2. Keep bathrooms clean and stocked with handwashing supplies

A lack of supplies and dirty bathrooms can actually discourage handwashing. In addition to keeping bathrooms and breakrooms clean, stock them with soap and paper towels to improve your employees’ handwashing habits.

In restrooms, sealed soap refill cartridges guard against mess and contamination, and hand sanitizer at exits provides additional protection against germs and reduces paper towel litter.

In breakrooms, germs can spread hand to mouth, so encourage good hand hygiene practices before and after meals. Provide hand sanitizing wipes that are both safe for everyday use and effective for easy cleanup of messes.

In common areas with high traffic, provide easily accessible hand sanitizer near elevators, doors, stair rails and reception areas.

3. Encourage employees to make handwashing a habit for the whole family

Employees with healthy children spend less time away from work and are less likely to get sick themselves. Encourage your employees to:

  • Teach their children good handwashing techniques
  • Remind children to wash their hands
  • Wash hands with their children

4. Make clean hands possible even when soap and water aren’t available

Handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness to others. If soap and water are not available — say, if you’re in a crowded meeting room and just sneezed — use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Offer hand sanitizing products to support employee hand hygiene and prevent the spread of germs on individual phones, computer keyboards, desks and other workspaces.

Clean hands are an easy way to keep your workforce healthy and increase productivity. For more information or to order free posters that encourage effective handwashing, visit CDC’s handwashing website.