Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of workplaces like the dreaded F-word: The Flu. Nobody wants it. And nobody wants to see it ripping through their organization.
Not only can it make you miserable, it can also make your businesses run miserably.
A case of the flu typically knocks people out for one to two weeks. That’s a lot of missed work! Estimates have put the cost of lost productivity due to flu season as high as 15 billion dollars. Yes, we’re talking BILLIONS. That’s enough to make any business owner feel sick.
Luckily, there are ways to help mitigate the damage. And with the health of your employees and your business on the line, they are definitely worth exploring.
Embrace healthy workplace habits
Exposure to the flu isn’t always obvious. People can be contagious without even knowing it. When flu season rolls around, it’s good to establish (or re-establish) healthy office habits that help prevent transmission.
Keep it clean – Encourage frequent hand washing. Keep hand sanitizer, tissues and disinfectant readily available. Remind people to cough and sneeze into the crook of their arms and not their hands.
Take time off – Offer paid sick time and make sure everyone (including you) knows it’s okay to use it. Make it clear that sick employees should stay home, especially if they have a fever or other flu symptoms. “Working through the flu” may seem admirable, but the ROI just isn’t there. Not only are sick employees less productive, they’re much more likely to spread their misfortune to other staff members. Employees who stay home can help prevent the domino effect.
Be flexible – If your employees have the ability to work from home, flu season is a great time to let them take advantage of it. If they are feeling under the weather, they don’t have to make that difficult decision about whether or not to trek into the office. And if they’ve got sick kids or other family members, remote working can offer some much needed flexibility.
Meet less often – If the flu is spreading like wildfire, throwing a bunch of employees into a room together and closing the door is the equivalent of creating an office Petri dish. Assess which meetings need to happen and which ones don’t. And consider using conference calls, video chats, or other technology to make them happen.
Hold the handshakes – A good, solid handshake is a business staple. But if it’s contaminated with an undetected virus, you’re better off skipping it. Encourage employees to skip the shake. A smile, nod or wave will often do the trick.
Immunize yourself. And your team.
Flu shots are no guarantee that you won’t get sick, but they definitely help. Studies show that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by about 40% to 60% among the overall population.
There are some definite upsides to getting vaccinated. Studies show that flu vaccines not only reduce the risk of influenza, they also:
- Make your illness milder if you do get sick
- Reduce the risk of flu-related complications and deaths
- Protect pregnant women and reduce the risk of flu illness in their babies for several months after birth
- Protect the people around you, including babies and children, elderly people, and individuals with certain chronic health conditions
And while it is true that you can get the flu even if you get the vaccination, this is only the case if you:
- have a compromised immune system
- catch a strain of the flu that isn’t covered by the shot
- were exposed to the flu before you got vaccinated
- are exposed to the flu after the shot but before the vaccine has time to do its job (1 – 2 weeks)
In fact, one study showed that flu vaccinations reduced deaths, ICU admissions, and overall duration of hospitalization stays for flu patients.
Stop it before it starts
If you could reduce the number of employees with the flu by 40 – 60 percent, would you do it?
As an employer, you can reduce the risk of a flu outbreak by encouraging immunizations. You may even want to go an extra step further and host a flu shot clinic, making it easy and convenient for employees to get their shot. If cost is a barrier, consider subsidizing or covering the expense.
It’s a small price to pay for a healthier workplace.
Photo by Kian Khoon Tan