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office handwashing habits

Your colleagues’ dirty washroom habits may not be what you think


When it’s suggested that someone has dirty washroom habits, you might not immediately think about their hands.  However, I would suggest that perhaps that is exactly what you should think about.

The ‘sneeze effect’ is what happens when a toilet gets flushed.  Imagine an aerosol of water and germs from the bowl being propelled upwards and outwards, eventually settling on the floor and surfaces around the toilet.  That means micro-organisms that are associated with urine and faecal matter are being distributed over all of the surfaces in the washroom.

Let me give you a scenario…

When you go into the cubicle, you drop your bag on the floor (which is now covered in an invisible sprinkling of germs).  The toilet lid was already up, so you turn and sit down on the seat (and also germs that have settled there).  The toilet roll doesn‘t have a cover, so the germs have already settled there, but you use it anyway.

You then flush the toilet without putting the lid down and a fresh spray of ‘bowl sneeze’ plumes out of the toilet. You pick up your bag (which now has up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch on it) and unlock the door (which is home to around 40,000 germs per square inch).

After the simple act of using the toilet, your hand has a bacterial count of 200million per square inch.  You are going to wash your hands now, aren‘t you?

Are we honest about our Handwashing habits?

At Initial, we surveyed 5,000 office workers around the world to better understand the implications of office hygiene and handwashing habits.

The results seemed positive with 84% of those asked claiming to always wash their hands after visiting the toilet and 27% claiming to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds every time seemed to be a good result.

washroom hygiene quote

However, when we compare that to the results that we were able to physically monitor, the actual percentage of people washing their hands is observed at nearly half of what they are claiming!

By failing to wash our hands, either correctly or indeed at all, those germs that have been picked up in the washroom will go on to be transmitted around the office as we move around, from door handles to pens, to phones; and even to food if you‘re one of the 50% of the workforce who eats at their desk.

Germs, not just on our hands

We‘ve already mentioned the bag, now smattered with germs, but what about other things taken into the cubicle?  In our research, we delved into the other items that could get cross-contaminated. We found that:

  • A third of office workers take their phone into the cubicle.
  • A whopping 35% read or browse online, 18% play games, 13% update their social media status and 12% bring food or drink into the toilet.
  • Of those people messing around on their smartphones, 63% are on Facebook, 50% are WhatsApp-ing, 17% are smashing their best score on Candy Crush and one in ten (11%) are trying to catch a Pikachu!

Dr. Lisa Ackerley, a leading hygiene expert, commented, “While bringing a smartphone or a newspaper into the bathroom may seem like a good way to pass the time, the danger is that germs are easily transferred from unwashed hands to objects that are routinely used throughout the day. When workers wipe and then resume playing with their phones or simply pick them up before washing their hands, their phone becomes a fantastic reservoir for germs such as bacteria and viruses which will re-contaminate even washed hands meaning germs can be easily passed around the office.”

It‘s something to think about next time you give someone a friendly greeting – perhaps you‘ll be one of the 42% of people that avoid shaking hands with someone who had just left the office toilet.

The social impact of Handwashing

Whether you‘ve forgotten, are one of the 37% of people who blame being in a rush or running late; or are one of the 50% of people blaming an aspect of the bathroom such as smell or cleanliness for driving them away, the fact remains that not washing your hands is not hygienic.  Yes, you can and will spread germs, but what about the social aspect?

78% of office workers said they would be “disgusted” if a colleague didn‘t wash their hands after visiting the toilet and 24% claim to have called someone out for forgetting to wash their hands. Simply put, not washing your hands can turn you into a social pariah.

So let‘s ask that question again.  You ARE going to wash your hands now, aren‘t you?

Office washroom hygiene whitepaper

* Continuous HygieneConnect monitoring carried out in 2015 by Initial Hygiene.

Cat Allport-Kane

As Head of Brand and Marketing Communications at Rentokil Initial, I happily work on content design, research and copywriting all day long. I get a real buzz out of finding out everything I can about new topics, then finding creative ways to present what I've learnt to inform and educate others. Trained in international marketing with psychology on the side, I've been writing content for over 20 years for various companies and what I love about Rentokil Initial, is that the topics can be diverse, but ultimately, the themes are always about protecting people and enhancing lives.


  1. Proper sanitation needs to be followed at the workplace. This also means complying with everything which can be used as a security rule at your place.

  2. And the result of this observation is?

    We know that viruses ( common cold) are spread via door handles ( Rarely any longer brass, which has antiviral/antibacterial properties)

    What is the consequence of this, perceived, lack of hygiene?

    I never wash my hands after urinating in a public toilet.

    I avoid contact with door handles and don’t go anywhere near the wash basins, that’s where people who’ve just defecated and then touche the taps. …

  3. Office toilet is quite dirty. while the using the toilet after properly flush.

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