Influenza season is upon us and so are all the aches and pains that come with it. We are all familiar with the physical symptoms of the flu (fever, chills, headache, stomach ache) which no one wants to endure, but we also have to remember how the flu negatively affects your work teams, work productivity, absenteeism and customers. So how can we help prevent it? We have assembled a short list of 5 things you can do to prevent the bug before the bug bugs you.
The quickest way to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated. According to the CDC website, you are 60% less likely to get the flu once you have been vaccinated. Unless you are in a healthcare setting where it is mandatory, I would not recommend demanding everyone in the office gets a shot. What would be helpful is putting up some signs around the office making employees aware that flu season in upon us and if they would LIKE to get a flu shot a short list of places near to get one. If you want to take this even a step farther you could offer to cover a portion of the cost. Some quick-access clinics and pharmacies offer very cost-efficient flu shots. Remember, timing is important when receiving a flu vaccine…make sure you're healthy and the earlier you go in the season is better and offers more protection to exposure.
You'd think this goes without saying, but many employees think it shows good character or determination to show up to work even when they are not feeling well. They also may not want to waste a PTO day because they are sick. That may seem admirable, but showing up to work sick spreads germs around the office and exposes others, even if you think you're taking proper precautions. So while the company gets the 2/3rd of production from you being there (let's face it you, can't be fully productive if you are sick) you've probably infected several others and over the next week or so people are missing work days to stay home and treat their illness…and now you have done the company a disservice. As a business owner, you may want to incentivize staying home by offering dedicated sick days, so employees don't feel they're losing PTO. Let your employees know it is ok to be out sick, they will value leadership that wants to ensure they are healthy and productive. The number one incentive to get people to stay home sick is to have a company culture that does not tolerate coming into the office sick. This is only effective if PTO is offered. Without PTO people will still show up sick and they will just try to hide it from people.
When I was young, we were taught to cover our mouth and nose if we coughed or sneezed. The problem is we were taught to do it with our hands and not into our elbow. Old habits can be hard to break, so it may be beneficial to install a sign or two during the season expressing the importance of using the elbow. I remember seeing a sign that in one picture had a person in a suit sneezing into their hand and in the next picture that same person was shaking hands with someone coming into the room. Sometimes we all need reminders. There is an important step after this that gets missed often, washing your hands...
Washing hands is most critical habit to develop, especially after someone has coughed or sneezed, to prevent the spread of the influenza virus. While technique is important to proper handwashing (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) we are not going to focus on technique as much as how to encourage it in the workplace. A sign or two in key spots will help, but in the healthiest facilities you find strategic placements of sanitizers and sinks. Do you have 2 large bathrooms centrally located or on each end of the building? Think about the locations in your facility where you are farthest and least likely to run and wash your hand and have hand sanitizers in those areas. While the bottles can be expensive and sloppy, there are dispensers that are visually appealing, promote regular usage and save you money. Your facility services partner should be able help you and in most cases the dispenser may be no cost. While using hand sanitizer is great at helping the spread of germs, it cannot be in lieu of hand washing. The CDC has general instructions and timing for handwashing on their website. Here's a link to their YouTube instructional video.
Having a proper cleaning schedule and competent facilities partner should check this goal off your list. Without having a day porter in the building cleaning during business hours, it would fall on employees to disinfect hard surfaces throughout the day. We recommend purchasing ready to use disinfecting wipes and placing canisters in high traffic and touch areas such as the reception area, restroom entrances and the lunch room. Task an employee to wipe down small specific areas during the day after they use such areas. If an employee wipes down the door handles to the restrooms several times a day, it should reduce the spread of germs significantly. Ready to use disinfectant wipes are 99% effective in as little as one minute, where a spray disinfectant may have to stay wet on the surface for 5 minutes or more to be as effective (we call this dwell time). Disinfectant companies make streamlined and convenient stands and dispensers that hold wipes. Your facility services partner should be able to get you all the information you need get these dispensers into your facility.
By implementing these 5 tips to prevent the spread of the influenza virus, you should see a reduction in employee absenteeism, an increase in employee production and happier and healthier employees and customers to far outweigh the minimal costs associated with implementation. The tips are beneficial for your bottom line, but more importantly beneficial to your most valuables assets, your employees and customers. For more information about preventing the flu in the workplace visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm