Nobody likes getting ill and it is even worse when the fevers, coughs and sneezes force you and your employees to take days off work. It only takes one person to fall ill to bring down a large group of employees with a nasty bug.
What can you do to prevent this domino effect of illness that can potentially hurt your productivity? Cold and flu prevention is a team effort. Here are some tips for the workplace to help you and your employees reduce the spread of germs.
How Much Impact can a Cold or Flu Have in a Workplace?
Although illnesses such as coughs, colds and the flu are relatively minor, they are actually the most common reason for sickness absence. In 2016, it was estimated that these minor illnesses accounted for 34 million working days lost. When you think about the fact that the median annual absence cost per employee is estimated to be £522, sickness absences can cost your company a lot of money and take a hit on your productivity.
Despite being a minor illness that tends to clear up by itself in a week or so, it can have a cumulative, negative impact.
What Measures Can You Take?
Whether it is an office or a worksite, your employees are susceptible to colds and the flu because they work in such close quarters with each other. After all, it only takes one infected person to spread the germs to everyone else. However, there are many actions you can take to prevent the spread of germs in your workplace.
Wash it, Bin it, Kill it
Remember that NHS slogan that is rolled out every time it is cold and flu season? There is a reason why it's so regularly broadcast. Cold and flu viruses are airborne - spread through droplets that are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even breathes. Hand-to-mouth is the most common transmission, so eating, nail biting or touching the mouth area can all lead to infection.
For this reason, ensure that your employees regularly wash their hands. Encourage this by placing signs around the workplace that teach them how to wash their hands properly. If frequent hand-washing is not a realistic option, encourage the use of hand sanitiser - whether it means installing hand sanitiser pumps in the workplace or distributing pocket-sized bottles of antibacterial gel.
Viruses tend to survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, so encourage your employees to regularly wipe down surfaces using antibacterial wipes. Cleaning and disinfecting shared surfaces, such as phones, tables, keyboards and doorknobs, is a good way to prevent the spread of infection.
Use Fresh Tissues and Cover Your Mouth and Nose
Coughing and sneezing are inevitable, so if you have to do it, always cover your mouth and nose. It sounds like such a little thing to do, but it is very effective. As the virus is airborne, covering your nose and mouth reduces the chance of it being expelled into the air. The NHS recommends that you cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and then throw that tissue away immediately, in order to prevent the virus from transferring to the surface you put it down on.
If there is no tissue available, use your hands and ensure you and your employees wash them straight away - whether it is with antibacterial gel or at a sink with soap.
The flu jab is one of the most effective ways to prevent the flu from spreading. It actually reduces your chances of getting flu by 60%, depending on age. Although there are different and various strains of flu every year, the vaccination protects against the types that scientists determine to be the highest risk.
If you want your team to be flu-free, arrange for your employees to get the flu jab. There are various companies, such as Boots and Bupa, offering corporate flu vaccination services - at no cost to your employees.
Your Employees Health Comes Before Everything Else
In this work-centric day and age, it is easy to inadvertently encourage your employees to power through illnesses in order to stay productive. Chances are, your employees would rather work instead of taking a sick day. The problem with this is, as soon as a sick member of staff enters the workplace, they are putting the other healthy workers at risk of illness. What could have been a few days off for that employee could spiral into multiple days off for dozens of other employees.
It is important that you remind your employees that they should never be hesitant to take a sick day because they think management might be against it. Of course, doing this relies on being able to trust your colleagues to know when they are maybe a little run down and when they are *really ill*. Communication goes hand in hand with a healthy, productive team, so ensure you make it clear that employees' health comes before anything else.
As well as this, you should be on alert for symptoms of colds and flu during peak season (which is November to April). Sometimes a cold or flu can be contracted in the middle of the working day, and more often than not, the employee will be well enough to 'power through' the rest of their shift. In these cases, ensure that person has everything they need to actively prevent spreading the infection - for example, antibacterial gel, wipes and tissues.
Keep Your Staff Protected this Season
There are many other factors you need to think about in order to keep your employees protected and working productively this season. A healthy workplace is a productive one, but it does not stop at preventing the spread of illness.