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How hygiene habits have changed since we first locked down

18 May 2022

Dr Lisa Ackerley shares her insight as to how consumer behaviour has shifted in the aftermath of the pandemic, and how both businesses and consumers have a shared responsibility when it comes to reducing the spread of germs.

AS WE mark two years since the UK’s first nationwide lockdown, a greater understanding of hygiene and the role we collectively play in enhancing hygiene habits to reduce the spread of germs has emerged. As we return to daily commutes, hot desking, shared kitchens, sports games, concerts, hotel stays, and travel - both across the country and beyond our borders - how much have our hygiene habits really changed? 

Social impact, change and the responsibility of businesses 

There’s no denying that hygiene habits have shifted and venturing out into the community looks different. Whilst the Prime Minister set out the Government’s plans to live with and manage the virus - which includes measures such as removing the ‘NHS COVID Pass’ from 1 April – it seems like that Brits are still concerned about the risk of coronavirus when the world bounces back from the pandemic. According to new research from Ipsos MORI, 65% are ‘just as concerned’ now about the ‘risks posed’ by the pandemic to both themselves and the country as a whole as they were towards the end of 2021. In the UK, nearly 30% of people are either ‘very concerned’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about the pandemic.

Echoing these concerns from the public, around 85% of business leaders believe that having the right products and processes for cleaning and disinfection is one of their ‘most important job responsibilities’.

As lockdowns and outbreaks have eased, and people have begun to venture back out into the community, the onus has moved from individuals protecting themselves at home, to businesses protecting people in the community. People and businesses have to embrace hygiene protocols and take extra hygiene precautions to help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. Handwashing remains one of the most important hygiene measures adopted from the public with 38% of people agreeing, following getting vaccinated and mask-wearing with 74.5% and 43% respectively.

While business confidence in the UK decreased for a second-quarter running, receding to average levels not seen since 20146, it’s clear that businesses are preparing to live with the pandemic. It’s imperative that these newly established societal norms and hygiene expectations are maintained. 

Hand hygiene and changing habits

According to Reckitt's research in numerous markets from June 2021, 56% of UK people said that they washed or sanitised their hands ‘more frequently’ compared to a year ago. Yet one in three (36%) said the frequency of handwashing or sanitising remained the same with 8% declaring they were doing it less7. What’s more, between October 2020 and October 2021, one in six were ‘unable to recall’ how often they washed their hands.

With 72% of people intending to follow the same cleaning and disinfection behaviours they adopted during the pandemic8, overall heightened awareness of hand hygiene among staff and customers should be something businesses should look to not just sustain, but actively encourage. This can be done with signage to remind people to sanitise or wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds at crucial times such as after using the bathroom, upon arrival in a shared space, or before eating.


Targeted hygiene: Research and rigour

The silver lining that this research points to is the understanding of the need to take a targeted approach when it comes to hygiene. Rooted in research and rigour, targeted hygiene refers to the practice of regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch surfaces to prevent the spread of germs. Based around individual business need and efficacy, targeted hygiene allows businesses to clean smarter, not just harder. Implementing a targeted approach to hygiene intervention can be an effective solution in helping to keep consumer-facing spaces hygienically clean. A bespoke programme of cleaning which focuses on high-traffic areas - and is backed by science - is far more impactful than carrying out a deep clean once a day.

Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, RSPH Professorial Fellow, and Winston Churchill Fellow Dr Lisa Ackerley is director of medical and scientific engagement and Hygiene at Reckitt - home to household brands like Enfamil, Nutramigen, Nurofen, Strepsils, Gaviscon, and Dettol.

For more information visit https://www.reckitt.com