Fever, chills, and massive headaches are the hallmark of one of the most dreaded viruses to hit the company breakroom. Influenza – commonly referred to as the seasonal flu – wreaks havoc on companies during the fall and winter months as coughing, sneezing, and runny noses spread germs from cubicle to cubicle, taking employees out one by one. According to the CDC, U.S. employees miss approximately 17 million workdays due to flu at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity.
But companies do have a line of defense. Basic hygiene and proper infection control measures are essential in helping to limit the spread of the flu virus thus creating a healthier workplace for employees to enjoy.
Flu Prevention Tips
- Encourage vaccinations. Flu vaccines are readily available at doctor’s offices, clinics, and pharmacies. Give your employees a few extra minutes at lunch to get their vaccination.
- Make handwashing easy. While handwashing can reduce the risks of respiratory infections by 16% or more, many people wash their hands incorrectly, if they wash them at all. Washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the absence of soap and water is one of the simplest ways to stop the spread of the flu. So, make it easy for employees to do by keeping the soap dispensers full in all restrooms and breakrooms. Distribute pocket size sanitizers or keep a big bottle at the front desk.
- Wipe down commonly touched surfaces. Mouse pads, keyboards, and telephones. Refrigerator and microwave handles, even elevator buttons. Commonly touched surfaces such as these are breeding grounds for germs, and those germs travel with each touchpoint. Wipe down surfaces often with eco-friendly cleansers designed to kill the flu virus. For added safety, keep a bottle of antibacterial wipes in these areas, as well, so employees can wipe down surfaces after use if need be. Specialty products like Adapt, ASB, a long-lasting, durable and invisible non-toxic surface protectant, are also helpful for reducing the transfer of bacteria.
- Offer training. The flu is just one of many viruses that can send the whole office home if you’re not prepared to combat it (think norovirus!). A good way to prevent illness from spreading throughout the office is to train employees on healthy best practices. Training could include the basics like good hygiene and general wellness.
But as the saying goes, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” So, it’s important to communicate the company’s sick policy to all employees early and often. At the department level, also consider enacting a buddy policy that pairs employees with similar skillsets and responsibilities. They can cover for one another if either calls out sick. When employees have a documented process to follow, you reduce employee anxiety so they can focus on getting well and back to work sooner.
If an employee calls out sick:
- Encourage them to stay home. The flu is an equal opportunity virus and can strike from the c-suite to the mailroom. It’s difficult for anyone to focus on work with fever and fatigue, so give them permission to be human and do what it takes to recover.
- Disinfect their workstation upon return. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. Chances are, by the time the employee returns, the germs are long. But, encourage employees to give their work areas a good cleaning anyway.
- Set realistic expectations for getting caught up on work. Coming back to an inbox chock full of emails and a stack of paperwork is overwhelming. Managers should work with employees to create an action plan to get caught up on projects and back in routine.
Surviving flu season takes a team effort. But with effective communication, proper training, and clear policies, the odds are already in your favor!