Always, no matter the season, it’s important for organizational leaders to pay close attention to employee health and wellness. Doing so is vital for creating a workplace that’s engaged, productive and contributing positively to the company’s overall goals. You can argue that never is wellness more important, though, than in the fall months when influenza begins cropping up.
According to Flu.gov, flu season can be lengthy in the United States. The illness tends to peak in January or February, but it can begin showing up as early as October and continue as late as May. That means companies need to be vigilant. What can they do to detect and prevent possible office flu outbreaks? Every gesture, no matter how small, can make a significant difference when it comes to infectious diseases. Prevent one case of the flu, and you might be stopping five or 10 more people from catching it too.
The effort to combat flu in the office must begin with managers. As always in a work setting, it’s the manager who sets the example for the rest of his team, and flu season is no exception to that rule.
A need for wellness leadership
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it’s important for managers to provide leadership when flu season comes around. Derek van Amerongen, vice president and medical officer at Humana of Ohio, told SHRM that supervisors should preach healthy habits, including encouraging sick days when there’s a risk of flu infection in the office.
“Just as we need to let people know that staying home when ill is the best decision, we also need managers to believe this as well,” van Amerongen said. “Too many managers send the message, perhaps even subconsciously, that taking sick time is a negative sign.
It’s time to change the culture. Everyone should know that using sick days and taking care of oneself is not only allowed – it’s laudable. Managers need to send this message.
Are you really indispensable?
Of course, this should begin with managers themselves. Bosses need to follow their own rules – if they’re sick, they must stay home. Sadly, van Amerongen told SHRM, many struggle to do so. They see themselves as indispensable, as if the workplace would fall apart without them.
“We have created a mindset in the U.S. that we are less devoted to our jobs if we don’t come in – regardless of illness, weather or other issues,” van Amerongen said.
Contrary to popular belief, no one is indispensable. Everyone can benefit from taking days off. Even when it’s a boss, the rule holds true – having someone back tomorrow at 100 percent is better than pushing them to slog through a sick day at 50 percent.
How to make tangible changes
It’s not just about taking sick days, though. Companies also need to do a lot more to prevent the spread of illnesses such as the flu.
The obvious first step is to provide flu shots. That alone can be a huge step toward a healthier, more productive workforce. In addition, it’s beneficial to encourage hand-washing, make hand sanitizer readily available, preach a healthy diet and create awareness about germs. The flu is a widespread problem in America that affects millions, but with a sound strategy, your business can beat it.