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August 2017

How bad bathroom smells are affecting employee morale

Written by Nicole Horne
Workplace Hygiene

Bad bathroom smells are the worst and, if they're not dealt with properly, could be affecting employee morale in your office. Here's some tips to combat these foul odors.

Did you know that humans can recognise and remember about 10,000 scents? Our basic sense of smell is mixed with other physical, chemical and mental processes that all combine to make up an overall perception of smells, the complexity of which is yet to be fully explored through neurological research.

Smell can have a negative impact on overall employee morale; affecting our performance, mood, how we regard our environment and our reaction to the other coworkers with whom we share our workplace.  According to Ruth Mastenbroek, former president of the British Society of Perfumers, smell is the our most powerful sense and can influence brain activity.

Have you ever thought about the impact that bad odours - especially smells arising from the office bathroom - can have on your employee morale? Below is a look into what makes a bathroom smell foul, the impact it has on employee morale and what you can do about it.

What causes bad bathroom odour?

Bacteria thrive in bathrooms due to the the high humidity and moisture levels; add to that a higher temperature and your have a recipe for foul odours.

Of all sources, urine is the most common source of bad smells in the bathroom. Bacteria utilises urine as a food source, and as urine changes from an acid to an alkaline it attracts moisture. This forms an ongoing cycle which will continue until bacteria is destroyed, making the smell even worse (Weise, 2002). Furthermore, bad odours are also caused by the build up of crystallized uric acid, salts and scale which can cause pipes to become blocked.

Leaking pipes and cracks can also attract viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold (Texas Child Care Quarterly, 2012) and lead to bathroom odours.

Cleaning supplies such as mops and cloths can also lead to smells spreading, and because these are usually damp, this is the perfect spot to harbour germs.

Improper cleaning is the biggest culprit in the spread of bacteria to various surfaces, leading to unpleasant smells.

But what impact does smell have on employee wellbeing?

According to Rachel S. Herz, an assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, we associate odours with a specific experience, where one event becomes linked with another. The linked event then prompts a conditioned reaction for the original situation and determines the individual’s perception (memory, emotions and behaviour) to a specific situation.

There is a strong neurological basis for why smells trigger emotional connections. The olfactory bulb in the brain which sorts sensation into perception, is part of the limbic system that is equipped for associative learning and emotional processing. For instance, an employee visits the second floor of the office building and experiences the foul bathroom smell. This elicits an unconditioned emotional response, such as feeling stressed and unwelcome. The odour becomes a conditioned stimulus for that second floor experience and attains the ability to trigger the conditioned response of stress and feelings of unwelcomeness which is encountered in subsequent visits.

There is a growing body of research that suggests that workplace scent should be managed along with various other factors such as temperature, lighting and personal space that impact our lives at the office. Many studies have shown that pleasant scents improve employee productivity, performance, confidence levels and social behaviours. Read more about this in our blog about smell and workplace productivity.

On the other hand, unpleasant smells arising from the bathroom can have the opposite effect on employee productivity and mood. Since smell affects our emotions, spending time in an office space that reeks of bad bathroom odours can make employees feel stressed, unappreciated, and that their basic needs are not taken care of. Since we spend most of our day at the office, employers need to be made aware of the important role scent plays in the workplace, and the impact it can have on employee morale.

What can your daily cleaners do about malodour in the bathroom?

As mentioned earlier, improper cleaning is the biggest offender when it comes to foul smells emanating from the bathroom. The best action to take in this regard is to brief bathroom cleaners to do the following on a daily basis:

  • Make use of proper cleaning supplies: mops, brooms, cloths, gloves and buckets, and ensure that they are disinfected after each use.

  • Ensure that cleaning supplies for the bathroom are used for the bathroom only - and are not used to clean other areas such as kitchens - as this will lead to the spread of bacteria.

  • Wash floors with a disinfectant solution: ensure that spaces behind toilets and bins are also attended to.

  • Toilet bowls must be cleaned with a detergent, and attention must also be paid to other areas of the toilet: the toilet lid, seat, rim, handle and areas between the seat and cistern. The same with urinals; ensure that these are properly disinfected.

  • Feminine hygiene units: empty sanitary bins regularly and wipe the surface down with a sanitising solution. If your daily cleaners are tending to your sanitary bins, ensure that the bins get sterilised regularly.

  • Don’t forget the basins, taps and counters: basins need to be sterilised, and counter surfaces and taps need to be wiped with a sanitiser solution. Be cautious not to empty dirty water (that was used to clean floors and toilets!) into basins. This will cause bacteria to settle and contaminate other areas.

  • Air fresheners and deodorisers: air fresheners can be used to promote a fresh smelling bathroom. However, please note that this will not solve the malodour problem in the long run, but just act to mask the smell.

  • Any leakages or blockages should be reported as soon as possible to prevent water from accumulating or overflowing which in turn, will provide an attractive environment for germs to thrive in.

What can you to ensure a pleasant smelling bathroom in the long run?

Daily bathroom cleaning will ensure a clean environment, but not guarantee a hygienic bathroom in the long term. A deep cleaning bathroom hygiene treatment is effective for those hard-to-reach areas.

This includes sanitising toilets, bathroom fixtures and surfaces with the use of bio-enzyme preparations that eliminates the buildup of scale, dirt and faecal deposits. Along with this, Initial offers and antibacterial fogging service which uses a high level aerosol disinfectant to  reach every crack and crevice, and cover every exposed surface of bathrooms, penetrating the places daily cleaning just can’t reach.

By ensuring a hygienic, germ-free bathroom environment, you’ll provide a healthier, pleasant-smelling bathroom that will give visitors peace of mind when using your facilities.

Got a problem with foul-smelling facilities? Contact Initial for expert solutions.

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Nicole Horne

Nicole Horne

Nicole is a Digital Marketing Executive at Rentokil Initial Hygiene in Johannesburg. A self-proclaimed germaphobe, her love for hygienic environments and curiosity of all things “beneath the surface” fuels her enthusiasm for writing about the impact of germs in the workplace. She is passionate about creating awareness and sharing her knowledge on the impact of good hygiene practices. Follow Nicole on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the the good, the bad and the germy.

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