How Do I Get My Staff to Wash Their Hands?

by | Jul 16, 2020

There is a lot that we can do to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus, such as wearing a mask, limiting touching of the face, and frequent handwashing or hand-sanitizing. As organizations start to open back up, the need for staff to follow precaution guidelines may be critical for the safety of your employees and individuals served. Handwashing is an easy, cost-effective way to stop the spread of germs, resulting in limited infection. But how can we increase staff handwashing behavior?

The following are some easy, cost-effective, time-effective, and research-based interventions to help your staff stay safe by washing their hands more frequently.
  • Casella et al (2013) implemented 3 levels of effort (high, medium, and low) and evaluated how that impacted staff’s safe performance. The researchers manipulated the effort required to hand-sanitize. They found that the less effort required, the more staff hand sanitized. This is an easy intervention to implement, for instance having hand-sanitizer more readily available to staff, rather than on the other side of the room. Essentially, look at what makes it difficult for staff to follow hand sanitizing protocols and manipulate the environment to make it easier for them.
  • Luke & Alavosius (2013) implemented feedback following the staff’s handwashing. Observers gave immediate, individualized feedback to staff regarding their handwashing after interacting with a client. The researchers found that this type of feedback (immediate, specific, individualized) increased hand hygiene, and maintained over-time. This is a good program to implement since feedback does not cost anything and takes less than a minute to deliver (e.g., “Thank you for washing your hands when entering the room Kara!”).
  • Finney, Miller & Adler (1993) were looking to increase safe behaviors (handwashing and glove-wearing) and to limit risky behavior (being in close physical contact), in order to reduce the transmission of a virus. The researchers found that an educational intervention was effective in increasing handwashing and glove-wearing, they also found that this program reduced risky behavior. In Essence, educate your staff on the importance of following safety precautions, and how that contributes to the overall safety of everyone in your organization.
  • Choi, Lee, Moon & Oah (2018) used prompts in the form of signs in the bathroom to increase handwashing. The researchers even used a funny sign “Soap it off or eat it later” to remind people to wash their hands. Following the posted signs, the researchers implemented feedback regarding handwashing. They found that the prompts were effective in increasing handwashing, however, the feedback was even more effective. Signs are a great way to remind staff to wash their hands, also are cheap to implement. For even better results, implement both strategies (reminders and feedback).

Increasing the frequency of handwashing behavior for your staff may be crucial to keep everyone safe as your organization gets used to the “new normal”. The previously mentioned research can be easily adapted to any setting, in a manner that will not break the bank and does not take much time out of the supervisor’s busy days.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Organize the environment to maximize handwashing by decreasing the effort required to complete the task. This can be done by having employees work closer to a sink or having hand-sanitizers readily available and close by.
  2. Giving your staff feedback on their handwashing is another great way to increase this behavior. For example: “Sara thank you for washing your hands, that’s really helpful to stop the spread of germs.” Or “Jim please remember to wash your hands when coming in from outside”. Make sure your feedback is specifically about handwashing and immediate.
  3. Educate your staff about the importance of handwashing. You can show your staff a fun video about how germs spread, give them a handout on how handwashing can help, or just a discussion about when and how often they should wash their hands.
  4. Finally, and possibly the easiest intervention is to put up reminders for staff to wash their hands. Remember that you can make these fun to really catch the attention of your staff.

Check out some of our other blog posts: How Do I Stop Touching My Face? and Increase Staff & Client Cleanliness using Behavioral Analysis.



Casella, S.E., Wilder, D.A., Neidert, P., Rey, C., Compton, M. and Chong, I. (2010), THE EFFECTS OF RESPONSE EFFORT ON SAFE PERFORMANCE BY THERAPISTS AT AN AUTISM TREATMENT FACILITY. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43: 729-734. doi:10.1901/jaba.2010.43-729

Choi, B., Lee, K., Moon, K. and Oah, S. (2018), A comparison of prompts and feedback for promoting handwashing in university restrooms. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 51: 667-674. doi:10.1002/jaba.467

Finney, J.W., Miller, K.M. and Adler, S.P. (1993), CHANGING PROTECTIVE AND RISKY BEHAVIORS TO PREVENT CHILD‐TO‐PARENT TRANSMISSION OF CYTOMEGALOVIRUS. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26: 471-472. doi:10.1901/jaba.1993.26-471

Luke, M.M. and Alavosius, M. (2011), ADHERENCE WITH UNIVERSAL PRECAUTIONS AFTER IMMEDIATE, PERSONALIZED PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44: 967-971. doi:10.1901/jaba.2011.44-967


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