It’s flu season again. And in addition to the misery of fever, cough, congestion, aches and pains, flu can majorly disrupt the workplace. The illness can reduce productivity and cause widespread absenteeism. For those people in customer-facing jobs, there is a greater risk of spreading flu beyond the workplace to the community. And every employee, once exposed to the flu, can spread it to their friends and family.
The benefit of taking steps to keep flu from spreading in the workplace will be healthier employees and a healthier community. The payoff can be measured in reduced absenteeism and lower healthcare costs.
Here are a few things you can do to keep the flu from spreading.
1. Educate your employees about the flu, its symptoms and seriousness
Getting the flu is more serious than just getting a cold. It can also lead to respiratory problems that require hospitalization. In some cases, flu can be fatal.
Everyone should recognize flu symptoms, which include:
- Fever of 100°F (37°C) or higher
- Symptoms that show up quickly (within 3-6 hours)
Caused by a virus, flu can be highly contagious. Because of this anyone who has flu symptoms should not be at work or anywhere they can come in contact with other people.
Also, because it is so contagious, everyone needs to understand that they play a role in stopping the spread of flu.
2. Host a workplace flu shot clinic
The single most effective thing anyone can do to stop the spread of flu is to get vaccinated against the flu every year.
Make it easy for your employees to get their flu shot by hosting a flu shot clinic in the workplace.
You can arrange to host a pop-up flu vaccine clinic through a local pharmacy or clinic. Set it up so that employees can simply drop in during their regular workday. Also, if you make getting a flu shot at work low- or no-cost, your employees have one less excuse for avoiding the flu shot.
If you can’t arrange to host a flu shot clinic, share information with your employees about where in your community flu shots are available and how important it is to get one.
3. Encourage your employees to practice good hygiene
Flu is spread through coughs and sneezes which launch virus-infected spit into the air.
Encourage people to do the following:
- Cough into your sleeve or a tissue instead of your hands
- Sneeze into a tissue
- Throw tissues away after a single use
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water
- Avoid coming in contact with people who are sick
- Get a good night’s sleep, as fatigue puts you at risk for flu
As an employer make sure you have adequate hygiene-related supplies in the workplace, including:
- Paper towels
- Alcohol-based hand gel
- Disposable wipes
- Latex gloves, when appropriate
4. Keep the workplace clean
Flu can also be spread by coming in contact with the flu virus on contaminated surfaces.
Provide wipes to your employees so that they can wipe down surfaces in their workspaces. Also, have janitors wipe down as many of the surfaces in the workplace as possible during routine cleanings.
Surfaces that could be contaminated with flu include:
- Door knobs
- Light switches and lamps
- Drawer handles
- Countertops and table tops
- Supply cabinets
- Keyboards and mouses
- Seatbacks and arm rests
- Coffee pot handles
- Microwave door handles and touch pads
- Vending machines
- Refrigerator doors
5. Send people home when they are sick
Flu is contagious. Anyone with flu symptoms should avoid contact with other people so that they don’t spread it. When an employee develops flu symptoms at work, send them home to get better.
A doctor can prescribe an antiviral drug that may relieve some symptoms and shorten how long you have the flu. But, you have to start taking these antiviral drugs within two days of beginning to feel flu symptoms for them to be effective. Other than that, the best thing to do is rest and treat the symptoms.
With or without taking antiviral drugs, anyone with the flu should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
The bottom line is the best way to get over the flu is simple — rest.
6. Let people telecommute during flu outbreaks
After getting your annual flu shot, one of the most effective ways to avoid the flu is to stay away from people who have the flu or have been exposed to the flu. For some employees, the best way to do this is to avoid the workplace during a flu outbreak.
Working from home to avoid exposure to the flu is especially important for people who are at a high risk of developing complications from flu. The telecommuting option is also useful for people who have young children and/or come into regular contact with people who are at high risk.
People who are at high risk include:
- Adults age 65 or older
- People with respiratory conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- People with heart disease
- People with kidney and liver disorders
- People with a weakened immune system
The CDC publishes a comprehensive list of health conditions that put people at high risk of flu complications.
7. Pay particular attention to employees who travel as part of their job
Employees who travel as part of their job come in contact with more people and are more likely to be exposed to the flu. For this reason, it’s important to encourage these employees in particular to get their annual flu shot.
Traveling also presents its own set of problems when it comes to the flu.
The timing of their flu shot needs to be coordinated with their travel. People need to get vaccinated at least two weeks before they travel so that their bodies have time to develop immunity.
Travellers need to stay informed about any flu activity happening at their destination, whether they are traveling domestically or internationally. This information will help them decide when they need to take additional precautions to avoid exposure to the flu.
No one should travel while they have flu symptoms. This can be especially tricky if your employee develops flu symptoms while on the road. Plan ahead so that the employee knows what to do to get treatment while on the road.
Flu can be disruptive to the workplace, but as this list shows, there are many things you can do to prevent it from spreading.