According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the flu contributes to roughly 111 million lost workdays every season and nearly $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity. As a human resource (HR) manager, you can reduce these instances by taking extra precautions around the office to protect your employees from the seasonal flu.
Encourage the Flu Shot
Getting vaccinated is perhaps the best way to protect against influenza. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that flu vaccinations contributed to a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospital visits among adults of all ages, and this year federal health officials expect the vaccine to be about 61 percent effective.
While you can’t force everyone in the office to get a flu shot, some employers offer onsite flu vaccinations to encourage more people to get vaccinated. You can contract with your local pharmacy or community vaccinators for these services, and it’s usually no (or low) cost to employees.
If you can’t host a flu vaccination clinic at your office, then it’s a good idea to make sure your employees know where they can get vaccinated. Send out an email that lists local pharmacies and health care providers that give flu shots, and perhaps offer incentives (say, a company-hosted lunch) for employees who get vaccinated.
Sanitize Often & Practice Safe Hygiene
Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule is a simple and cheap way to safeguard your office during flu season. You can either designate one person in the office to rotate cleaning duties every week, or you can hire a professional company to provide these services.
Additionally, encouraging safe hygienic practices at work is another way to limit the spread of germs and the flu. Some of these healthy habits include:
- Keeping hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and facial tissue in the office
- Sanitizing keyboards, mice, phones, door handles, and desktop surfaces
- Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
Send Sick Employees Home
Sniffling, sneezing, and coughing are all too familiar signs of an employee suffering from the flu. While it doesn’t take a doctor to know when it’s time to go home, some employees work through the feverish aches and pains of the flu to avoid penalty (such as loss in vacation time) for calling-in sick. But this, of course, puts everyone else at risk.
HR managers can avoid this problem by sending sick employees home at the first sign of an illness. Developing a flexible sick-leave policy, for example, is a great way to encourage employees to take their flu bug out of the office, and if the work can be done remotely, you can also ask employees to work from home.
In general, experts recommend that employees stay home for a minimum of 24 hours after their flu symptoms have subsided.
“Don’t go back to work or school too early because you could potentially be spreading it to others,” says Thomas Haupt, an influenza surveillance specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “You’re also putting yourself at risk for secondary infections as well.”
Provide Influenza Education
Most people know how to stay healthy during the flu season, but sometimes they just need little reminders. The CDC has an entire database of tools and information about flu prevention for employers, including educational posters for the office. To help you promote the dangers of the flu, here are a few resources and flyers you can start using around the workplace today:
- Everyday Preventative Actions That Can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu
- Fight the Flu
- I Can’t Miss Work Because of the Flu
- Vaccine Locations
- You Need a Flu Vaccine