Hygiene in the workplace: what it means and why it is important

As an employer ensure cleanliness expectations are set from the beginning and maintained. Address issues of poor hygiene sensitively and quickly to avoid conflict, discomfort and poor professional image.

Hygiene in the workplace is an important and at times overlooked issue for organisations. Whether it is dirty dishes left in the kitchen sink, unclean bathrooms, or poor personal hygiene, it is essential good hygiene practices are followed and maintained in the workplace. If issues pertaining to poor hygiene are not dealt with, they can become a bigger problem. In this blog post we will consider why workplace hygiene is important, consider types of hygiene and how to address poor hygiene.

Why is hygiene in the workplace important?

There are several reasons why good hygiene in the workplace is important. These include:

  • Promotes a positive reputation for the organisation
  • Prevents the spread of illness
  • Contributes to a healthy, happy and comfortable workplace
  • Reduce health and safety concerns due to dirty work areas
  • Provides a sense of pride for the organisations and employees
  • Ensures the workplace is a pleasant place to work
  • Reduces tension and conflict in the workplace
  • Shows employees they are valued and boosts staff moral

Workplace hygiene

Maintaining a clean, healthy, and hygienic workplace is everyone’s responsibility. Often a workplace engages cleaners to regularly clean the premises, particularly common spaces such as the kitchen, bathrooms and emptying of rubbish bins. However, employees still need to be mindful they contribute to a clean, hygienic, and comfortable working environment. We have all been in a workplace where the dish fairy forgets to do their dishes after lunch or leaves a coffee cup soaking in the sink. Often these rouge dishes are washed up by other conscientious people in the workplace (most likely those considered at the bottom of the hierarchy). Do not let poor patterns evolve, ensure all staff are aware of what their responsibilities are regarding maintaining a clean and hygienic workplace. This includes expectations such as sanitising keyboards, regular and thorough hand washing and who is responsible for ensuring communal areas are neat and tidy. This can be documented in policies and procedures and should be covered during induction of new employees and semi-regularly re-emphasised during staff meetings and/or in staff correspondence.

A workplace should provide items to ensure the cleanliness of the workplace and its employees is upheld. Including providing items such as, hand sanitiser, soap dispensers, anti-bacterial wipes, and tissues. It is a good idea to display posters around the workplace reminding staff of their responsibility for maintaining a clean workplace such as in the kitchen and bathroom. 

Personal hygiene

Good personal hygiene of employees is an important aspect of organisational image and ensures the workplace is pleasant for all employees and visitors. Dress code and expectations regarding personal appearance in the workplace should be outlined in workplace policies. A dress code policy will specify what is appropriate attire and what the expectations are regarding grooming and personal appearance.

Ensure there is a good culture around staff staying home when they are sick. It is common for employees to turn up to work when they are clearly unwell and spread germs. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of why it is important for employees to stay at home if they are unwell and why good workplace and personal hygiene practices should be maintained in the workplace.

Addressing poor personal and workplace hygiene

Hygiene can be a sensitive topic to approach in the workplace, particularly when it comes to personal hygiene and issues such as problematic odours (body odour, bad breath or too much perfume or cologne). When addressing instances of poor personal hygiene it is important to be mindful of a number of factors, such as an employee’s mental wellbeing. An indicator of a deterioration in mental health can be a decline in personal hygiene and/or appearance. Another important consideration is differences in cultural practices. Good personal hygiene is important for most cultures worldwide. However, what is good hygiene varies between cultures. For example, in many cultures body odour is seen as offensive, compared to some cultures who consider it natural.

When addressing poor hygiene in the workplace make certain you approach it with consideration. This can be achieved by finding a private space to discuss it, be direct but sensitive, provide an example of the issue and why it is a problem, allow the person space to reply and formulate a solution together.

To reiterate, hygiene in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility. As an employer ensure cleanliness expectations are set from the beginning and maintained. Address issues of poor hygiene sensitively and quickly to avoid conflict, discomfort and poor professional image.

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