August 2021
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TD Magazine

Hygiene Theater

Friday, July 30, 2021

Safety concerns are running rampant among employees as employers roll out their return-to-office plans. The COVID-19 pandemic gave birth to a new generation of germaphobes who continue to practice aggressive cleaning rituals aimed at safeguarding themselves from illnesses.

Vincent Hill, chief of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's waterborne disease prevention branch, describes some of those practices—specifically the constant disinfection of surfaces—as examples of hygiene theater. They are practices that do little, if anything, to stave off sickness.


When it comes to combatting COVID-19, mitigating the risk of airborne transmission is most important, according to the CDC. But also, as Hill warns, displays of hygiene theater can sometimes provide a false sense of security.

In the Atlantic's article "Deep Cleaning Isn't a Victimless Crime," Derek Thompson highlights other costs associated with hygiene theater. "Too many institutions spend scarce funds or sacrifice scarce resources to do microbial battle against fomites that don't pose a real threat," he notes. Accordingly, a training consideration for organizations reorienting workers to office life may include education on what in-office hygiene practices are most effective, such as handwashing.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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