HR Strange But True!
November 11, 2009

It doesn't pay to be polite when you are trying to get your employees to wash their hands to avoid spreading swine flu, says new research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, because workers just don't listen to gentle reminders.

According to an NPR Health Blog, hygiene researcher Val Curtis says that “the good old worthy health messages don't work anymore,” so restroom signs now have to be “a little edgy and a little rude.”

The most effective tact to take with signs, says Curtis, is to imply to employees that colleagues are looking at you—and judging you—as you use the restroom. For example, a sign stating “Is the person next to you using soap?” brought the biggest bump in soap usage, according to the study.

The research monitored a quarter-million people at a busy rest stop by installing sensors on the soap dispensers and monitoring usage when electronic signs promoting proper handwashing were displayed. The only variable was the text on the signs.

Initially, without the signs, only 65 percent of women and 32 percent of men washed their hands. Polite signs such as “Wash Your Hands with Soap and Water” and “Don't Be a Dirty Soap Dodger” (well, they're British) didn't do much to improve the stats.

According to the study, women's usage improved most with a sign designed to be “knowledgeable”—Water Doesn't Kill Germs, Soap Does!

However, things improved as the signs in the men's room got more gross. A sign designed to “disgust”-- Soap it off or eat it later!—was most significant in improving male handwashing, increasing soap usage by almost 10 percent.

So to be effective, get down and dirty in those signs about keeping hands clean.

Sources: American Journal of Public Health and NPR

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