Use hand cleansers to decrease absenteeism

Get workers thinking about it

Use of alcohol-based hand cleansers significantly reduced several common infections and reduced absenteeism in a study of 129 white-collar workers in 2005 to 2006, according to research from the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine in Greifswald, Germany.1

Participants were told to wet their hands fully with the rubs at least five times a day, especially after visiting the restroom, blowing their noses, before eating, and after touching other people or papers. No hand-hygiene behaviors were suggested to the control group.

Putting disinfectants on employees' desks helped reduce absenteeism as well, with workdays lost because of diarrhea cut dramatically.

"Hand cleansers are an important component of an overall approach to creating a culture of health at a business location," says Brent Pawlecki, MD, corporate medical director at Stamford, CT-based Pitney Bowes. "Hand hygiene is something that we want our employees thinking about at all times."

Because the hand sanitizing stations are so noticeable, their strategic placement can set a tone for the workplace. "This has symbolic value, by encouraging hand hygiene even when the employees are not passing by the station itself," says Pawlecki.

At Pitney Bowes' headquarters, the first sanitizing station that visitors and employees who use the main entrance see is right in the lobby. In addition, sanitizers were installed in high-traffic locations: The entrances to the main cafeteria, fitness center, and the on-site clinic.

Every single restroom in the company's facilities has signage with tips on how to wash hands effectively, and instructions on how to leave the restroom in a hand-healthy manner. That means drying your hands with a clean paper towel, and using that same towel to turn off the water at the sink and open the door when leaving.

"We provide a wastebasket next to the outer door of every restroom for convenient disposal of used paper towels," says Pawlecki.

Pawlecki says that he believes that accessibility of hand cleansers does have an impact on absenteeism.

"It certainly helps, although we have not undertaken a comprehensive study to prove the degree to which it helps," he says. "There are many factors that influence absenteeism, but having a comprehensive and aggressive healthy-hands program can be a meaningful contributor to overall employee health, well-being, and productivity."


  1. Hubner, NO, Hubner C, Wodny M, et al. Effectiveness of alcohol-based hand disinfectants in a public administration: Impact on health and work performance related to acute respiratory symptoms and diarrhea. BMC Infect Dis 2010; 10:250; doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-250.