By: Brenda Hofmann
Do you hear that sound? If your workplace is like mine, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the guy sniffling over the cube wall or the girl with the lung-rattling cough at the coffee machine. It’s the sound of flu season and it’s hurtling fast and furious toward your organization.
Each flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost due to the flu, equaling a staggering $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity. And, in addition, the flu costs the U.S. $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.*
With stakes that high, many employers take the threat of the flu seriously. An International Foundation survey found that 85% of employers offer free or discounted on-site flu shot clinics to help encourage their employees to get vaccinated—an important action since the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.
The flu vaccination is only part of your war against flu germs. A recent study conducted by the University of Arizona revealed that germs travel fast in an office environment, reaching 50% of employees in just four hours. Encouraging employees to take precautions is key in stopping the spread of the flu.
Consider these easy steps to help your organization make it through flu season:
- Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home—Remind your employees of your sick leave policy and that they should remain home when they have active flu symptoms. If it works for your organization, consider flexible leave or work-from-home policies to help keep sick employees from feeling the pressure to come into the workplace.
- Provide Hand Sanitizer and Promote Frequent Hand Washing—Keep hand sanitizer in public spaces and hang posters throughout your workplace reminding employees of the simple steps they can take to keep themselves and their co-workers healthy.
- Keep the Workplace Clean—Frequently used common spaces (think door knobs, stair rails, copy machines, lunch areas) should be wiped down often with disinfectants. Keep cleaners accessible to employees so they can wipe down both common areas and their personal workspace.
- Educate Workers About Conditions That Place Them at Higher Risk for Complications—Certain groups have a higher risk for complications from the flu (like pregnant women and people with asthma). Inform workers of these high-risk groups and suggest they talk to their doctor about their risk and what to do if they become ill.
To help prepare your organization, visit the Foundation’s Flu Resources web page for a helpful list of U.S. and Canadian flu resources. You’ll find free information that can be shared with your employees and used to help your workplace prepare.
Since October is the official start to flu season, now is the time to take action to keep your employees flu-free. Here’s wishing you a healthy flu season full of hand-washing co-workers and abundant hand sanitizer for all!
*Molinari NA, Ortega-Sanchez IR, Messonnier ML, et al. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine. 2007; 25(27):5086-96.