The arrival of cooler temperatures signals the coming of fall—and the coming of flu season. No one likes to feel sick, but employers face the added burden of illnesses spreading throughout the organization, which amplifies and prolongs the problem and increases the amount of productivity lost to illness each season.
- Remind employees of their ability to get free flu shots with their healthcare coverage if applicable. Encourage this. Consider offering on-site flu shots for free, even if you do not offer health insurance (and especially if you do—work with the provider, as it will be covered).
- Take extra steps in cleaning, especially for shared spaces like break rooms, bathrooms, and kitchens. Consider providing hand sanitizer to all employees. Remember to disinfect things like door handles and faucets. Plan ahead for needing extra paper towels and soap and encourage employees to wash their hands frequently.
- Remind employees to keep their workspaces clean and sanitized—especially surfaces like phones and keyboards that are touched frequently.
- Encourage employees who feel ill to stay home to not spread illness to others.
- Offer paid sick days to not dis-incentivize employees who fear losing pay when ill. Remind employees about the paid days off that are available to them and encourage them to stay home until after they’re feeling well again.
- Remind employees to not share phones or eating/drinking surfaces or any other equipment.
- Stock up on tissues for the office. Consider keeping on hand general supplies like over-the-counter medications that are commonly used to treat flu and cold symptoms, like pain relievers, cough suppressants, and decongestants.
- Train and remind employees about good hygiene practices, like not leaving tissues lying around, to cover their mouth if they have to cough or sneeze, and to wash hands afterward.
- Offer wellness programs that encourage healthy habits like getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and staying hydrated. These can help reduce the incidence of illness.
- Pay attention to the spread of the flu in your local area. When it starts to spread (the CDC website tracks this), take extra precautions.
- Have backup plans in place for key employees. Know who will cover when someone has to be away from the workplace. Having this in place in advance will allow you to be sincere when you encourage an employee to stay home! Communicate coverage plans and ensure those who are expected to step up know these expectations. Have a further backup in case a lot of employees are out at once. Ensure that there are ways for other employees to get in the loop to be able to take over to ensure continuity for customers.
What other steps has your organization taken to reduce the onset and spread of colds and flu amongst employees? What would you add to this list?
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.