Anyone who ever spent a week in bed, or worse, hanging their head over the toilet, knows the flu is terrible. It makes you feel awful, puts loved ones at risk, and takes you totally out of commission for days. The health community suspected the 2017-2018 flu season would be bad, and it has not disappointed: it's been one of the worst seasons in a decade.
The flu makes business feel sick, too. Every year, 10-35 million Americans get the flu, with 150,000-700,000 requiring hospitalization. It even causes from 10,000-50,000 deaths per year. The economic impact is absolutely massive: billions in healthcare costs and billions in lost earnings, not to mention the loss of new opportunities from missed days or deceased employees.
Here are ways you can keep your office healthy and productive throughout the flu season:
1. Encourage the Vaccine - Even Now!
Most people who get the flu vaccine get it in the fall; the CDC recommends by the end of October, if possible. But even now is not too late. The CDC says the vaccine can and should be used throughout the flu season, even after January. If you offer health insurance, make sure it covers the flu vaccine for employees and for their families. Check with your provider to see if they will set up a vaccination session at your office. But even if you can't bring a healthcare provider on site, there are other ways to encourage vaccination. Find local community vaccination drives - there are tons advertised online. Take an office trip to a pharmacy or clinic that offers the vaccine. If an employee has access to a vaccination drive, encourage them to go, and ask if they're allowed to bring guests!
2. Strategically Place Flu-Fighting Equipment Around the Office
Every Fall, get your office the battlefield gear it needs to fight the war against the flu. Put a pump bottle of hand sanitizer right at the entrance to your office. It will encourage employees and guests alike to clean their hands as soon as they walk in, helping deter invading germs. Put a box of tissues and a hand sanitizer on each desk and in each meeting room. Make sure there's plenty of antibacterial soap in the kitchen and bathrooms. These easy reminders will encourage good habits.
3. Post Information in the Kitchen and Bathrooms
Sometimes subtle hints are not enough. Be explicit! Put up fact sheets in the kitchen and bathroom, reminding your colleagues of the risks of germs. The CDC will even send you some for free! Print signs specifically requesting hand washing before and after eating. In addition to reminding those who forget, the signs (and germ-fighting equipment) will also function as peer pressure for compliance.
4. Be Liberal With Sick Days and Telecommuting
There's only one thing worse than an employee out sick with the flu: an entire office out sick with the flu. If an employee tells you they might be getting sick, send them home! Either they spend a day telecommuting and you get peace of mind, or you insist they stay to finish that one project, and in that time several more people get sick. You cannot produce for your clients if your employees are not available. And make sure you remind your employees the same!
5. Encourage Exercise
You know exercise is good for the long-term health of your employees, and therefore the long-term health of your business. But there's also evidence that exercise can strengthen immune response to infectious disease. So offer your employees discounts on gym memberships, or set aside time they can go hit the gym during the day. Encourage overall health, and particularly exercise, to help prevent your employees from getting sick in the first place, and to help prevent contagion if someone does fall ill.
6. Spread Positive Vibes
Culture is a key part of any business. It improves employee happiness and performance and attracts clients and talent. But it also promotes physical health! Studies have shown that people with better moods actually respond better to the flu vaccine. Even improved overhead lighting and increased sunlight can do wonders for mood. Make an effort to promote a happy, supportive environment rather than a high-pressure one.