HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Workplace Hygiene

Whether it’s personal or workplace hygiene, this topic can feel a little taboo. Read on to learn why hygiene in the workplace is so important and some tips to help you cover the topic with employees when it arises.

What Is Workplace Hygiene?

Workplace hygiene is just what it seems—maintaining health and preventing disease in the workplace through cleanliness—but this can go beyond the personal hygiene of your employees. As an employer, it’s your duty to ensure that the cleanliness of your location emulates the cleanliness you require from your employees. Maintaining cleanliness for your organization translates to the hygiene habits of your employees and vice versa.

Why Is Hygiene Important in the Workplace?

A lack of good hygiene in the workplace can truly break your organization from the inside out. Let’s look at why maintaining a level of hygiene is so important.
  • Health. It takes employees to run your organization. Without proper hygiene, those very employees get sick more often, resulting in a lack of team members to keep your organization running.
  • Safety. Hygiene goes beyond the basics that keep people well. If an employee spills some of their lunch and fails to clean it up, the mess could result in another employee slipping in the spilled lunch and hurting themselves. Safety is a key component of any workplace, and workplace hygiene can play a vital role in employee safety.
  • Professionalism. Whether you have clients coming in and out of your organization or you’re just in an inward-facing location, how your organization appears to others is important. The last thing your company needs are employees who aren’t taking care of themselves or the breakroom and leaving your organization looking trashed.

Types of Workplace Hygiene

Now that you are clear on the importance of workplace hygiene, let’s start talking about the areas you should consider.

Kitchen and Common Areas

It goes without saying that common areas will be highly trafficked and could present challenges to maintain the level of cleanliness that you’re striving for in your organization. In kitchens and common areas, employees are making food, eating food, and having conversations with fellow employees or friends. You want them to feel safe and relax and enjoy their time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set a standard to be met. Don’t allow employees to leave exploded food in the microwave or dirty dishes in the sink. Encourage them to recover and relax while maintaining the hygiene your organization expects.


The most highly trafficked area in your organization is likely to be the bathroom. While it’s not usually expected that employees clean the bathrooms themselves—most companies have cleaning crews or companies to do that for them—bathrooms will become less clean throughout the day and could reflect poorly on your company. Employees do not have to physically clean the toilet, but perhaps ensure they are keeping the floors clean of paper or trash and are trying to leave the location just as they found it.

Work Areas

While employees love to personalize desks, offices, or work areas, they must follow your company standards. Allow your employees to put up pictures and plants and whatever your organization deems allowable, but ensure it doesn’t cross the line to a hygiene problem. If you have an employee who insists on bringing their sourdough starter into the workplace, perhaps you draw the line there. If employees are eating at their desks and leaving jelly smeared across the mousepad, that should be a clear violation of hygiene policies. It’s okay to require a level of cleanliness in accordance with your company standards, even in personal work areas.

Personal Hygiene

Possibly the trickiest issue to navigate is that of personal hygiene. Depending on the dress code of your organization, this can be hard to control. Establish a clear hygiene standard within your dress code or appearance policy and enforce it consistently This can include groomed and clean hair, pressed clothing void of prints or slogans, and shoes clean of dirt or mud. Find a hygiene standard for your employees that mirrors that of your organization.

Tips for Maintaining Workplace Hygiene

Understanding how important hygiene is and knowing the types of workplace hygiene to look out for, it’s time to dive into tips your organization can use to maintain workplace hygiene.

Tip 1: Clear Directions

More often than not, issues arise due to lack of clear instructions, so don't fall into this camp. Set clear guidelines, expectations, and directions for your employees to follow. You may choose to highlight the policies at different times of the year; perhaps you have the hygiene requirements outlined in your handbook and a poster that you hang or an email you send during cold and flu season. Presenting the information in different formats is useful. Whichever direction works for your organization, make it clear to your employees that this is mandatory and to be followed.

Tip 2: Establish a Cleaning Rotation

To get down to the nuts and bolts of the cleaning itself, it may be beneficial to divy up the cleaning within your organization. I’m not referring to cleaning bathrooms; as we have established, those may be best left to the professionals. But perhaps your organization establishes that one week the sales department cleans the break room at the end of the day, and the next week it goes to the operations department. This keeps everyone in your organization accountable, as they will be the ones cleaning at one time or another, and may encourage the level of ownership you’re looking for to keep hygiene in check at your company.

Tip 3: Provide a Checklist

Standards of cleanliness can vary, so it’s best to not leave anything to the imagination. Provide a checklist of what your organization deems is the appropriate level of organizational hygiene. Let employees know you expect them to throw away their food, clean their dishes, and leave the area as they found it when they are using the kitchen. Explain the nitty-gritty expectations you have as they clean or maintain specific areas. Employees will appreciate the direction and will leave feeling confident they cleaned according to the standards.

Tip 4: Evaluate Regularly

No matter how foolproof your hygiene plan is, continued evaluation and maintenance is always needed. You may find that the rotation of departments cleaning the breakroom isn't as effective as you would like, and it’s time to shake it up. Take pride in the hygiene of your organization and those that represent it, and evaluate the best way to keep it at that level consistently.

How to Talk to Employees About Personal Hygiene

Lastly, let’s discuss one of the more difficult conversations you can have with your employees and give some direction on how to have the personal hygiene talk professionally.

Confirm That Hygiene Is an Issue

Employees may come to you complaining that a co-worker smells and they are unable to work with them. As with any complaint, you should validate it prior to moving forward. If it’s in reference to body odor, you may be able to verify this by simply walking by the employee; if it’s bad breath, it may require a conversation. Lack of grooming is easier to observe.

Have the Conversation Privately

Once you have validated the claim, pull the employee aside privately. These conversations should take place one-on-one and away from the prying eyes of fellow employees. Be discreet, whether you call them on the phone and ask them to come to your office or walk by their desk and ask them to walk with you to your office. Ensure the conversation does not take place where other employees could hear or see.

Be Respectful

Understand that you have no idea what the employee is going to say. Perhaps they are struggling with money problems right now and cannot afford to turn their water on to have a shower. Maybe they are having some mental health issues that makes maintaining appearance difficult. Listen to understand and truly allow the employee the time to explain their lack of cleanliness. Respect that this is a sensitive topic and treat it accordingly.

Stick to the Policy and the Facts

When it comes to the actual conversation itself, stick to the policy and the facts you know. Be matter of fact and non-judgemental. Clearly explain the policy and expectations and that you’re here to support them along the way to achieve that goal. Be open, understanding, and provide a way that you can work together to achieve a more professional hygiene level.
Shalie Reich

Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department "of one", working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!
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