Millions of cases of the common cold are reported each year in the U.S., and five to 20 percent of Americans succumb to the flu annually, according to the CDC. These numbers should concern small-business owners; a large number of employees suffering from a cold or the flu can lead to serious productivity and efficiency issues.
By taking measures to prevent the spread of cold and flu, and by implementing a policy that focuses on sick employees in the workplace, you can help address employee health during the cold and flu season. Here are a few tips.
1. Offer Education on Healthy Habits
Taking proactive steps to educate employees on health-related issues can pay off in the long run. Look into sponsoring an on-site health fair focusing on proper office hygiene and related topics, so employees can learn how to avoid situations and conditions that promote illness.
2. Encourage Flu Vaccinations
Employers can't mandate that employees get vaccinated for the flu, but they can encourage it. It also makes sense to promote local clinics or hospitals that offer free flu shots and to allow staff to take time off during the day to get vaccinated.
3. Let Sick Employees Know It's Okay to Stay Home—and Set a Good Example
In some workplaces there's a stigma attached to staying home due to illness. Instead, offer paid sick days to your employees and communicate that coming to work can put everyone else's health at risk. (Note: Some states and local jurisdictions require paid sick leave.)
But telling employees you prefer they stay home when they're sick carries little value if you, the boss, show up sneezing, coughing, or displaying signs of fever. Don’t let a misguided sense of obligation lead you to set the wrong example by showing up to work sick while urging others to act differently.
4. Keep Supplies on Hand to Maintain a Germ-Free Workplace
A minimal investment to keep hand sanitizers, antibacterial soap, and other disinfecting agents on hand can pay dividends by improving employee health. Encourage employees to focus on cleaning surfaces most easily infected with cold and flu germs — their office telephone, computer keyboard and mouse, and other commonly used areas.
The common cold and flu can be threats to business efficiency, just as much as computer downtime or other equipment failure. Offering education, paid sick days, and sensible work-from-home work policies can make a huge difference in keeping your workforce healthy and productive.