Managing Flu Season In The Workplace
Employers cannot predict what this flu season will be like or how it will impact productivity. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season usually varies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity typically peaks in the United States between December and February, but seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue as late as May. For about half of each calendar year, American businesses risk worker absenteeism, increased health care costs, and lost productivity and revenue due to these seasonal viruses.
The statistics are alarming. The CDC states that the flu costs the United States more than $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays each flu season.
What can you do to lessen the impact in your company?
You can play an important role in reducing the spread of flu in your company and your community with the following tips:
- Encourage your employees to get a flu shot. If the vaccine is not covered under your health plan, you could subsidize the cost of the flu shot. Some employers even host flu vaccination clinics in the workplace to make it easy for employees to take care of their health. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu. The seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the main flu viruses that research suggests will cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after the flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.According to the experts at the CDC, three kinds of flu viruses commonly circulate among people, including two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2), and influenza B viruses. All of the 2015-2016 influenza vaccine is made to protect against the following three viruses:• An A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus. • An A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus. • A B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (this is a B/Yamagata lineage virus). Some of the 2015-2016 flu vaccine also protects against an additional B virus called B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
The CDC has produced an employer resource kit available to all employers to promote the flu vaccinations and encourage prevention.
- Educate your employees about the flu and what they can do both at work and at home to stay healthy. Take this opportunity to promote health and wellness tips. Highlight your company’s wellness initiatives and incentives. Highlight the general preventive precautions employees can take by having their entire family vaccinated, staying away from sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, and washing their hands to reduce the spread of germs.
- Tell employees who are sick to get medical attention early and to stay out of the office. Despite everyone’s best efforts at prevention, the flu will still impact the workplace. If it does, be ready. Employees should be advised to seek help when they first become ill. Antiviral drugs lessen symptoms, shorten the time a person is sick, and prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. The CDC reports that for employees with a high-risk medical condition, an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness instead of a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
If manageable in your work environment and with the types of work done by your employees, allow employees experiencing flu symptoms who are well enough and want to work from home to do so to help prevent spreading flu to others. If that is not possible, be as flexible as you can with scheduling make-up work hours for your employees who request additional work upon their return. The key is to offer alternatives to those employees who cannot afford to be without a full paycheck and may come to work sick.
Employers who plan ahead and think through alternatives to assist employees through the flu season will be healthier companies by every measure – employees of those companies will know their employer cares about their health and well-being and will take proactive steps to keep them healthy, either by offering flu shots or providing alternative work arrangements to keep the spread of flu out of the workplace.