Australian office hygiene standards are poor, and business owners are paying for it

Offices are breeding grounds for germs, with poor workplace hygiene costing businesses up to $800 million in lost wages each year, new research suggests.

A survey conducted by Initial Hygiene found that the hygiene habits of Australian workers are low, leading to one in six workers falling ill from poor office cleanliness standards.

It found that these workers were taking off an average 4.8 sick days each year, leading to a loss in productivity and an $800 million loss in wages for employers.

Initial Hygiene marketing manager Natalie Howard said the survey showed 40% of office workers were concerned they might fall ill due to poor office hygiene, while 50% said office hygiene concerns affected their productivity.  

Howard said that three out of four office workers believe poor office hygiene indicates their employer “doesn’t care about them”.

“Over half (55%) of Aussie office workers are not happy with their office washroom and criticised their employer for ‘washing their hands’ of office hygiene. This is a damning statistic, and shows Australian businesses are not making it the priority it needs to be,” she said.

The survey yielded some unusual findings, including that 56% of respondents had been distracted from work thinking about the hygiene behaviour of others.

Other findings included that 67% of people lost productivity due to attending to personal hygiene at work, and 57% lost productivity due to spending time talking to other people at work about the company’s hygiene standards.

It found 72% of employees are reluctant to recommend a business with poor office hygiene to job seekers, while for seven out of 10 respondents, poor office hygiene genuinely affected their overall job satisfaction.

It also seems that staff are stuck cleaning up after their colleagues, with 54% reporting they had spent time attending to the hygiene of communal office spaces.

“Substandard office hygiene reflects poorly on a business, increasing absenteeism and lowering productivity, however, there are lots of things employers can do to improve office hygiene like installing hand soaps and sanitisers, toilet seat cleaners and paper towel dispensers to help reduce the cross contamination within the office,” Howard said.

In other research by Opinion Matters on behalf of Rentokil Initial in September, some disturbing revelations included that one in three employees admitted they don’t wash their hands every time they visit the bathroom, and that 3.76% of people worry about other people not washing their hands.

Human resources expert and director of HRAnywhere Martin Nally says office hygiene is a “sleeper problem” which is much bigger than people are prepared to admit.

“People are a bit uncomfortable talking about it, it is also an issue where different cultures and different understanding of hygiene standards can be a problem,” he explains.

Nally says that he has seen signs on walls in some workplaces issued by the Health Department of Victoria outlining the expected hygiene standards for kitchens and bathrooms.

He thinks if an organisation has a clear vision and clarity of expectation, then the expected level of hygiene should be met by staff.

If staff also have a good affinity for the company and good level of care for their colleagues, they are more likely to keep up good cleanliness standards for each other, he says.

Nally thinks even the owner or the CEO of a company should make an effort to put their lunch plate in the dishwasher, to demonstrate the level of care expected.

“It does lead to office frustration…but it is less of an issue if you have a good company culture.”

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