HR Management & Compliance

The Workplace and the Flu: Productivity Takes a Hit

The 2018–2019 flu season was the longest the United States experienced in a decade. It lasted 21 weeks, with a total of 42.9 million people falling ill. Unfortunately, health experts fear that the 2019–2020 flu season could be even worse.


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With the risk of a severe flu season ahead, companies must prepare for an absent workforce. In fact, a recent report found nearly three in four Americans (74%) who contracted the flu in the last year had to miss work/school. The report also revealed that of those who called out sick from work/school, the majority (57%) missed 1–3 days, followed by 4–6 days (35%) and 7+ days (6%). With more than a third of Americans missing nearly a full week of work due to the flu, companies are at risk of their employees’ productivity decreasing significantly.

As businesses aim to meet their year-end goals and finish strong, it is especially important for business leaders and HR professionals to be diligent in protecting themselves—and their employees—from the virus. This can be done simply by offering flu vaccinations at work and making sure adequate sick time is allotted to employees so that they do not feel pressured to come to work while recovering from the flu.

Americans View Workplaces that Offer Flu Shots More Positively

One way for companies to protect their workforce from catching the flu is to offer the flu shot at work. Not only will this help prevent the disease from spreading around the office by providing a convenient means for employees to get vaccinated, but it is also beneficial for recruiting and retaining employees. In fact, the majority of Americans (67%) say they think more positively about a company that offers the flu shot, and nearly three in five Americans (58%) would be more likely to work for an employer if it offered the chance to get a flu shot while at work.

Despite this, businesses are falling short on providing this health-related benefit; nearly half (45%) of Americans say their employer does not offer the vaccine at work. If companies are contemplating offering this benefit to employees in the future, it’s important to understand there are benefits to the organization beyond helping to keep the workforce healthy.

Sick Time Policies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that workers who have flu symptoms promptly separate themselves from other workers and stay at home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medications.

That being said, nearly one in five (16%) Americans are most concerned about having to miss work/pay if they get the flu. To reduce this concern, HR professionals should consider reviewing their organization’s sick time policies to ensure employees are being offered an appropriate amount of time off should they fall ill as a result of a disease like the flu. If a company’s sick time policy lacks time to recover from the flu, organizations run the risk of sick employees coming into the office while still ill and putting the rest of the workforce at risk, thus increasing the chances of lost productivity for a higher number of people.

While a portion of the population falling sick during this time of year is unavoidable, HR professionals and businesses can make it easier for their employees to stay protected by offering health-related benefits, like the flu shot, at work and reevaluating their sick time policies.

Cindy Miller is the CEO of Stericycle, a leading provider of compliance-based solutions that protect people and brands, promote health, and safeguard the environment. Miller was previously an executive at UPS during the time it pioneered and prioritized safe transportation methods.

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