KNOW HOW

How to Keep the Flu Out of Your Office

As freezing temperatures keep people in doors, fending off cabin fever is nothing compared to keeping sick co-workers at bay. Here's how to clamp down on illness in the workplace.
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It's flu season. And you know what that means: Not only might you get sick, but your whole office could get infected. That scenario should obviously be avoided, as sidelined employees can dig into your bottom line.

How can you keep your employees in the pink? Here are five tips for fending off the flu (and other illnesses) in your office:

1. Make it easy for your employees to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that flu shots prevent 6.6 million cases of flu and 79,000 hospitalizations each season. So how do you go about stamping out the problem before it starts? Make it easy for employees to get inoculated. Many pharmacies offer them, and, in some towns, there's a pharmacy on practically every corner. Still, it'll take some effort. Consider bringing the flu shot to your office and let people get one, for free. Sure, it will cost the business a pretty penny, but it'll be a heck of a lot less than all the time off work. Just don't force participation.

2. Have a good sick policy--and use it. The boss needs to stay home when he or she is sick. And be sure to never punish employees for using sick days. Not only is someone with the flu not going to be performing at a high level, the happy little germs are jumping from person to person, infecting everyone else. That's not exactly a recipe for success.

3. Send the obviously sick home. It's true that people begin to be contagious before showing symptoms, but that doesn't mean you can't lessen the damage by sending the ill home. If they insist they are well enough to work, that's super. Hand them a laptop and shove them out the door.

4. Get some compassionate HR people. This may seem like an illogical way to combat the flu, but I can't tell you how many rule oriented HR people there are that care about the proper forms but not about people. A compassionate HR person, can help you figure out the proper policy for your business and employees' needs. This person (or people) can also help corral the proper paperwork and make sure you're compliant with all local, state and federal laws regarding illness. If your HR person wants to write people up for taking time off work because of the flu, send all the sick people into her office.

5. Clean, clean, clean! Doorknobs, stair railings, elevator buttons, faucets, keyboards, tablet screens, conference tables, copy machine buttons, community staplers, projection equipment and anything else that people touch should be wiped down, daily at least, with a disinfectant. It's not as hard as it sounds. You can easily buy disinfectant wipes (not baby wipes!) and set them around. Encourage people to clean their own keyboards and desk areas regularly. If you don't have regular janitorial staff, it shouldn't be hard to have someone wipe down the doorknobs every day. And who should do that? Make a rotation and the first people on the list should be the CEO, followed by the senior leadership team. Don't make the admins do it unless everyone is taking a turn.

Last updated: Jan 7, 2014

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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