Experts are predicting this flu season to be one of the worst in decades. In addition to the regular flu the novel H1N1 will again rear its ugly head. A flu outbreak affects more than individual’s health. Communities, schools and businesses will all be impacted by the virus.
Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, MD, medical director of Loyola University Health System Occupational Health Services, offers advice for how businesses can prepare and respond to the flu.
“An organization can be severely impacted by people coming to work when they’re sick. We know illness can spread from person to person causing entire work groups to be impacted. But less obvious is how job performance, organization, productivity, creativity and financial stability can all be affected,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer said in a news release.
Sickness can interrupt productivity by creating a distraction and causing both the infected person and coworkers to focus on the illness instead of their jobs. It can affect how outsiders, such as clients and customers, view the stability of the company as well.
“Encourage employees who are sick to use their sick time. Many don’t know they have it because they’ve never had to use it,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer said. “Make sure to plan ahead so if you have a deadline there are procedures in place – like how to work from home. By making small changes and preparing for illness we can protect each other and our businesses.”
People often think because they wash their hands or take over-the-counter medications, they aren’t spreading the illness. Not so.
“Just being in a room and breathing when a person is sick can spread the illness, not to mention coughing and sneezing. If you’re sick you shouldn’t be in the workplace. It interrupts business and puts others at risk of infection,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer said.
To prepare and protect your business from a flu outbreak Capelli-Schellpfeffer offers the following four tips:
1. Communicate your policy on attendance when sick. Make sure employees are aware of the company’s attendance policy and identify a point person for questions. Give examples to illustrate when employees should stay home due to sickness.
2. Prepare for unexpected absences. With schools and daycares closing many parents are forced to leave work to care for their children. Sick employees also should be sent home to avoid spreading disease. This results in difficulties with staffing. Be sure your company has a plan in place to meet staffing needs if affected.
3. Good housekeeping equals good health. Regular surface cleaning minimizes germ exposure. Eliminate clutter on counters, especially around sinks and food preparation areas, to ease the job of wiping down these often germ-filled areas and promote quick drying.
4. Focus your company’s culture on health. This includes having a prevention program that offers annual flu shots, informs employees about ways to stay healthy and what to do to avoid infectious illness. Also, find prominent places to hang posters that remind people to wash their hands before meals, after sneezing or coughing, and when moving between tasks.
“While news cycles and the public’s attention span about the flu rises and wanes, the flu is not going away,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer said. “Though there is a cost involved in promoting wellness, it is small in comparison to the pricey hit companies take when their workforce is impaired by illness. A flu shot program is an investment that yields big returns for businesses.”