By Sue Blankenhagen, Wellness Program Specialist, Ceridian LifeWorks
It’s that time of year, and cases of influenza are beginning to pick up – and can spread quickly through the office if you’re not well prepared to contain them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu season is unpredictable and while flu spreads every year, “the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one year to another.” If you want to prevent the flu from becoming a major issue in your office, you’ve got to start now.
I recently shared some advice with HR Dive about this very topic. The message was simple – when cold and flu season hits the workplace, it can have a great impact on business. The illness has a way of affecting your employees, their friends and families and their relationships with their customers. It also, of course, can have a very negative effect on productivity. Whenever one person becomes infected, you have to worry not only about how much work they’ll miss, but also how many people they may have affected around them. The chain reaction can be catastrophic.
For this reason, it’s important for managers and HR professionals to be prepared for the possibility of multiple employees being affected by the annual flu season. The two should work together to nip this issue in the bud – managers are on the front lines with their employees every day and can have a direct impact on health, while HR can also be there to provide strong leadership when it comes to sick policies, employee wellness and more. Here are five key steps that organizations can take:
Educate people on office policies
Everyone in your office, from the top down, should be well aware of the organization’s policies on taking sick time. Managers should be held accountable for making sure everyone on their respective teams knows and follows them.
Encourage flu vaccines for everyone
Flu shots are absolutely essential. Try to make them available at the office – or, if that’s not possible, you might even want to consider giving your employees time off work to go get one. Talk to your HR team about creative ways to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Make a healthy office a priority
Encourage frequent hand-washing, and the use of sanitizer as well. Discourage excessive hand-shaking and the use of shared pens, computers and the like. Germs can spread like wildfire this season, so everyone should be careful.
Hand out educational materials
Try to give people as many educational materials about the flu as possible. How can they prepare? How can they tell if they are too sick to go to work? What do they need to do to protect their family. Sharing this information is especially easy to do if your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP) you can use for disseminating information.
Reinforce the “stay home” message
Establish this policy now and keep following up later. If people or their young children are sick, they should feel absolutely no shame about staying home and taking care of themselves or their little ones. It’s not heroic to come to work sick – it’s foolish. You can’t take any risks with the health and productivity of your staff.
Sue Blankenhagen is a Wellness Program Specialist for Ceridian LifeWorks. With more than 20 years of experience with worksite wellness, community health education and health promotion, she understands what it takes to help employees find their motivation. Sue is a Certified Wellness Coach™ with a bachelor’s degree in General Dietetics from Madonna University in Michigan.