Keeping your Workplace Healthy During Flu Season

Every third news article seems to be about ebola. Ebola certainly sounds scary. However, statistically, it’s not as scary as the flu. Business owners and office managers have an important duty, especially in cold and flu season, to help prevent the spread of viruses throughout the office. That’s a big task! But an important one.

The impact will not only be felt by employees: healthy employees are actually good for your business’ bottom line. According to the CDC, the flu alone ends up costing U.S. companies $10.4 billion annually. Add productivity-destroying viruses into the mix and companies are in bad shape.

Luckily, there are several things you can offer to employees or encourage of them to prevent the spread of colds and flus in your office:

Sick Leave Policy

The best way to cut down on the spread of colds and flus in your workplace is to ensure that you have a solid sick leave policy and that all management not only supports it but demands it. We’ve all had the manager who encourages employees to tough it out. Toughing it out does no one any good. There is a well-known word in the Human Resources world: Presenteeism. Presenteeism is what happens when an employee comes into work, but isn’t productive. When you’ve got a cloudy head and an achy body, toughing it out usually results in lowered productivity, increased errors, and the spreading of disease.

Presenteeism is likely to happen in the following situations:

  • Very little sick time is offered – If employees won’t get paid for a sick day, they’ll be less likely to stay home and recuperate
  • A tough it out culture – If the manager or the business owner displays a tough it out approach to illness, employees will likely come into work when they’re sick to impress the boss, regardless of how much sick time they have available
  • Lack of cross-training – For example, if Sally is the only employee who knows how to run credit card charges, it’s likely that the following will happen if she becomes sick: She will either come to work with the illness, underperforming while feeling miserable, and will spread germs to the others in the office, or she will not come to work when sick (which is ideal) and Bob will be left without Sally, unable to run credit card charges (not ideal).

Neither of these are good scenarios and can wind up costing the company more money than if the employee was offered, and took, the sick time they needed. Don’t just encourage employees to use their sick time, use it yourself! If employees see management slowing down and staying home when sick, they’ll be more likely to do the same as well, thus decreasing the spread of colds and flus in your office.

Office Snacks

Kudos to you if your company provides snacks for employees! Unfortunately, the easiest snacks to keep on hand are chips, cookies, and candies. While those are a nice treat, a great way to help ramp up your workforce’s collective immune system is with fruits and vegetables. According to Care2.com, fruits and vegetable such as berries, carrots and spinach are top immune boosters. Adding to their appeal is the fact that they are simple and easy to grab or prepare. There are many ways you can regularly obtain healthy snacks like this such as through a trip to the grocery store, joining a Community Supported Agriculture program, or even by joining a fruit of the month club.

Sanitizer

Imagine this: at 8:00 am, an otherwise asymptomatic employee sneezes into their hand just before they open to door to walk into the office. Shortly after, the rest of the employees file in, through that same door. Many of them touch their face shortly after grabbing the door knob, possibly infecting themselves with the same virus that patient zero had. This is an excellent case for sanitizing highly trafficked items in your office: door knobs, phones, keyboards, refrigerator handles, and so on. Starting this week, make it a daily task to sanitize these objects with antibacterial cleaner. Your cleaning crew may also do that if you ask. If you still don’t feel the need to sanitize common fixtures, watch Contagion; that will change your mind!

Flu Shots

When it comes to the flu, prevention is key. Even though the flu typically hits people harder than the common cold, a good amount of cases can be prevented or minimized with the flu shot. Many bosses encourage their employees to get the flu shot each year, but some companies take it even further by offering on-site flu shot clinics. That way, employees don’t even have to leave the office to get their flu shot.

Employees who are vaccinated for the flu have:

  • 13%-44% fewer health care/provider visits
  • 18%-45% fewer lost workdays
  • 18%-28% fewer work days with reduced productivity

Opportunities for Cleanliness

Washing your hands regularly isn’t just for restaurant workers. In any environment where you have close contact with others, washing your hands protects you from getting sick just as much as it prevents others from getting sick. While there are most certainly laws against telling employees what to do in the bathroom, having ample antibacterial soap on hand at every sink in your office will empower everyone to lather up. If you want to be extra good to the the skin on your conscientious employees’ hands, consider keeping a bottle of lotion near the soap. Frequent hand washing during the winter months usually makes hands dry and painful, causing people to think twice before washing up. During flu season, you’ll want to do everything you can to encourage frequent hand washing.

Time for Shut Eye

While we all differ in the exact amount of sleep we require, getting less than 7 – 8 hours of sleep significantly lowers the body’s immune system. Although getting 3 hours of sleep one night probably won’t make someone sick, it will make them more vulnerable to viruses and germs. It may seem that the responsibility for getting enough sleep rests solely on the individual, however, their workload has a big impact on the quantity and quality of their sleep. That means that you, their boss, play a role in how much sleep an employee gets. Sounds weird, I know.

Interestingly, even the CDC sees the role that employers play in the amount of sleep that employees get. The CDC suggests that employers allow for at least 10 consecutive hours of non-working time to enable employees to obtain the universally desired 7 – 8 hours of sleep. Whether they actually go to sleep on time is largely out of your control. However, having a flexible work schedule enables employees to sleep in a bit and make up for any lost sleep caused by non-work related responsibilities. If employees are frequently sleep-deprived, consider flexible time to allow for more sleep.

Employer Sponsored Health Coverage

Healthcare is vital year-round, especially during flu season. Even if you offer flu shots and sick time, employees may still become very ill from the flu and require medical attention. Not having access to healthcare during a bad case of the flu could turn dangerous and no one wants to see that happen to their employees. Sponsoring healthcare coverage would encourage employees to seek medical attention when they’re seriously ill, which will help them rebound stronger and get them back to work sooner.

What else do you do to help keep your office healthy during cold and flu season?

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