Instead of viewing cleaning as an operational cost, companies’ cleanliness and hygiene levels can be seen as a business or operational asset.
In an ever-growing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) global climate, businesses in Singapore will have to become more resilient and resourceful so that they can not only survive but thrive in today’s world. The Forward SG’s dialogues with Singaporeans from all walks of life on wide-ranging topics regarding Singapore’s social compact shine a light for businesses to understand what concerns us as a society, offering insights for leverage.
One such takeaway from the series of exchanges was the consensus amongst Singaporeans on the need for a mindset shift across all segments of society to be more environmentally conscious. This highlights Singaporeans’ awareness and acknowledgement that everyone in our community has a role to play towards making Singapore a clean city, and hence companies that can demonstrate environmentally friendly operation models will have an advantage.
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
Cleanliness as capital
The Public Hygiene Council (PHC) advocates businesses to uphold a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at their premises.
While a clean and hygienic environment is always welcomed by everyone (and indeed should be a minimum basic), the uncomfortable truth is that it often takes a backseat as it is often viewed as an operational cost.
However, are we looking at this the wrong way? Instead of viewing cleaning as an operational cost, why can’t a company’s cleanliness and hygiene level be seen as a business or operational asset that works towards boosting businesses’ bottom lines?
Corporations have spent huge amounts of money to secure intellectual properties because they understand that such intellectual property constitutes tangible assets towards the growth of the company. Likewise, an organisation’s high standards of cleanliness and hygiene of an organisation can arguably also be viewed as capital to propel it to even greater heights.
Take, for instance, the consistently low level of satisfaction of Singaporeans for the cleanliness of the toilets in our coffee shops, as revealed in the Public Cleanliness Satisfaction Survey 2022 that was presented by the Singapore Management University. More than just a nasty experience, an unhygienic restroom at a coffeeshop is also a red flag on the cleanliness and safety of its food. Ultimately, business will suffer at this coffee shop. Conversely, coffee shop operators that make an attempt to have top-notch restrooms will attract more patrons.
This is something that top shopping malls understand. They know that maintaining clean toilets has business benefits. Mall operators understand that people may sometimes just go to a mall to use a clean toilet but often, they stay around after to shop at the stores.
A draw for employees
From an HR point of view, cleanliness and hygiene at the workplace are also valuable to businesses because they can improve employee well-being. This can be even more pronounced in more industrialised or manual jobs that are physically demanding, where there is a need for resting places at work areas. When companies have a reputation for being a caring employer, this can help attract and retain talent. Thus, a work environment that is clean and hygienic can be a boon to the company’s recruitment efforts.
The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how delicate situations can suddenly become. However, it simply amplified what we should have known all along - that a company that concerns itself with maintaining a clean and hygienic work environment will be more resilient, especially towards any threats towards the well-being and health of staff. Businesses in particular, many of which are still recovering from those prolonged periods of inertia caused by the lockdowns, risk being impacted severely again should another crisis hit.
Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the workplace, therefore, should not just be a short-term necessity during the pandemic but a long-term investment for businesses. An example of this is seen in the aviation and tourism industries. Now, with travel restrictions eased and people travelling again, it is important that businesses in the air travel sector do not let their guard down, as maintaining hygiene practices in airports and airplanes is crucial to preventing another pandemic from spreading across borders again.
Over the last three years, businesses across different industries have all adopted visible implementation of safety protocols and adherence to public health guidelines. These measures helped customers feel safe to patronise the businesses, thus attracting patrons to retailers and other enterprises that took hygiene measures seriously. As we now resume pre- pandemic life, it remains to be seen if companies can keep up with these standards. Particularly so during this period with Covid cases on the rise again, we are served a stark reminder to be on our toes and remain vigilant towards maintaining good hygiene standards.
A total ecosystem
Many may think that to maintain good cleanliness and hygiene, the solution is simply to deploy more cleaners or to introduce more deterrents to prevent people from dirtying places. While these measures definitely help, they are ultimately not sustainable and lose their effectiveness in the long term without a holistic approach towards cleanliness and hygiene. Whether as individuals or business operators, we are ultimately interdependent on each other and we all have to realise that hygiene and cleanliness start with us.
In view of this and to truly achieve a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene, the PHC recommends a total ecosystem approach. Under this approach, in addition to enforcement and education which we are very familiar with, we also look at how physical infrastructure can contribute towards the cleanliness of a place. For instance, business operators can consider the location of trash-collection points or washing areas, and the placement of items such as wipes or disinfectants at their premises. This can help their staff or even customers to keep their places clean effortlessly.
A platform for growth
Apart from the physical aspect, cleanliness can also be considered to be an act of consideration and civic-mindedness. Since its establishment in 2011, the PHC has constantly advocated for greater social responsibility from our people, especially the public, towards keeping Singapore clean.
However, it goes beyond that. With 2023 being the 100th birth anniversary of the founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, it is fitting to take a look back at Lee’s vision when he launched the “Keep Singapore Clean” campaign more than five decades ago - and in so doing, provided the foundation for businesses in Singapore to flourish and our economy to prosper.
The business and social climates are very much different in today’s environment, and there may be more considerations for an organisation to contemplate when looking into how they can improve the hygiene level of their workplace. In leading the Keep Singapore Clean movement, the PHC comprises of representatives from different industries, in both the public and private sectors. These council members share their diverse knowledge and resources as a peer-to-peer network in our work to strengthen and coordinate community efforts to improve the cleanliness and hygiene standards in Singapore.
We look forward to connecting and working closely with like-minded corporations in coming up with more ideas that can utilise cleanliness and hygiene to help businesses grow. If you’re a business interested in finding out more about how your company can benefit from a clean environment, do contact the PHC today.
Chairman, Public Hygiene Council