All-inclusive employee wellness programs promoted alongside a corporate culture of health offer employers the best hope of improving employee well-being, increased productivity and reduced health-care costs. All too often, though, we forget the obvious, and in this case it is hygiene. Especially during the flu season, the inclusion of hygiene to your wellness program is highly beneficial and can help generate immediate results.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Absence Management 2011 Annual Survey reports that as many as 85% of employees are less productive each year because of “minor illnesses” such as the common cold, influenza and gastrointestinal conditions that spike presenteeism and absenteeism. Minor illnesses, then, when counted together, may trigger significant cost and productivity implications relating to the health of employees.
Minor illnesses caused by viruses are spread through hands, sneezing and coughing. Germs can be found on desks, doorknobs and other surfaces. Another spawning ground for infectious diseases involves communal areas such as cafeterias, meeting rooms, photocopying and fax machines, doors and restrooms. Although not a major hazard, the spreading of germs is a significant nuisance that impacts attendance and productivity. The good news is that these minor illnesses, with far-reaching impact, can be significantly reduced.
In 2000, John T.J. Samuel described “herd immunity” as a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Further research indicates that it could take an employee participation rate of between 25% and 40% in a workplace hygiene program to break or prevent an infection cycle. This rate is certainly achievable given the standard participation rate of many wellness programs.
“As many as 85% of employees are less productive each year because of minor illnesses”
Germs are spread in many ways including the air and surfaces, which means washing or sanitizing one’s hands is not enough to break the chain of transmission. What’s needed is an effort to identify areas where germs are most likely to reside and wipe down those surfaces with proper cleaning products.
Charles P. Gerba, reported in Germs in the Workplace, that more than 10 million germs can be found on the average office desk. That’s astounding! Now consider common human behaviour and where we think of cleaning first — the bathroom and the kitchen. We never even consider that our phones, keyboards, mouse and desk are spreading germs.
The success of any workplace hygiene program is to first assist employees in understanding how and where germs are spread, then share how to break the chain of germ transmission to reduce the probability of illness. And this may not be too hard to achieve. In 2010, a global consumer germ-segmentation study was conducted by Leapfrog Market Research, estimating that 37% of a typical employee population describes themselves as “germ anxious”. So they are already predisposed to the task at hand. Arm them, and other eager employees, with hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, provide proper signage and brief instructions on their usage, and you may be able to drastically reduce the occurrence and concentration of viruses.
Measurable outcomes for a realistic ROI
Hygiene programs focused on reducing exposure to harmful germs causing minor illnesses such as cold, flu and various stomach disorders may have immediate measurable results. Hygiene wellness programs not only measure germ count reductions, but also the potential for a return on investment (ROI) associated with fewer employee absences, lower medical claims and higher productivity. In addition, they represent a powerful way for an employer to raise morale and improve employee satisfaction by showing how much an employer cares about employee health.
When measuring program interventions, the focus clearly should be on quantifying germ exposure in the workplace and how it evolves over time. As part of that pursuit, it’s also important to be able to track the evolution of absenteeism and presenteeism costs, as well as medical claims cost associated with respiratory and gastrointestinal germ exposure.
Standard wellness program take time to be effective, especially when considering smoking cessation or weight-loss programs that can take up several years for any corporate return on investment. By including a focus on hygiene, you may be able to rely on quick results to satiate any impatient bean counters in your midst!
Remember to include hygiene
A hygiene-based approach to employee wellness can help round out traditional programs. With minor illnesses triggering major problems in terms of employee health and benefit costs, it is appropriate for employers to give serious consideration to understanding then eradicating the spread of germs. Such efforts will enable improved employee well-being and impact the health-care cost curve in a more meaningful way. Consider using hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and facial tissues to drastically reduce the occurrence and concentration of illness-causing germs.