Along with cold weather and holiday decorations, flu season has arrived in full force. Without proper precautions, a flu outbreak can snowball out of control when employees come to work sick. Establishing a business environment that encourages good employee health habits can help keep your company running smoothly during flu season and throughout the year.

An Office Infestation

Viruses can spread quickly in an office environment. Employees usually work in close quarters, share desks and computer keyboards that harbor germs, and are often overworked and run-down.

A virus like the flu can easily slow down workplace productivity. Because illness affects the mind as well as the body, if an employee comes to the office ill instead of taking a sick day, he or she may be distracted, miss important details, and physically work more slowly because he or she does not feel well. Other employees will be less likely to want to work with the sick individual for fear of catching the illness, further hindering business productivity.

To top off diminishing workplace efficiency, it is very likely that the bug will spread when an employee shows up to work sick. The flu virus is about 60 percent contagious, meaning that 60 percent of those who come in contact with a sick person will also get sick. Other viruses can be 80 percent contagious, and before you know it, there is an office epidemic.

Although it may be inconvenient to have an employee call in sick for a few days, it’s much better to have one person out of the office for a short time rather than several out all at once.

Squash the Bug Before It Arrives

Employers have some responsibility for promoting wellness in their office and among staff members. The employer sets the culture of wellness by creating policies that prioritize workers’ health. Communicating policies to employees so they understand what is expected of them (staying out of the office when contagious, for example) is very important. Upholding health policies throughout the year will create a healthier environment overall and prevent some illnesses before they occur.

Posters in bathrooms reminding employees to wash their hands can be one helpful measure to create a healthier work environment, but some employers have begun doing even more.

Here are some tips for building a workplace that is healthy year-round:

1      Provide information about lifestyle and nutrition. Inform employees about ways to live and eat healthier. Certain vitamins promote a healthy immune system for the prevention of illness, and it could be helpful to consider providing vitamins such as zinc lozenges to employees. Zinc binds to viruses and prevents their spread and can help sick employees recover more quickly.  Also, vitamin D is over five times more effective at preventing the flu than a flu shot, without any of the risks.  Most of the studies used about 2,000 IU (international unit) per day for both adults and children.

2      Hold meetings and discussion groups on wellness. Invite a physician to the office to conduct physical exams and basic health tests. Then hold discussions during lunch meetings to explain the results of the tests and discuss wellness. This eliminates the excuse of employees being too busy to see a doctor, helps start a conversation in the workplace about health, and allows employees to get their health questions answered.

3      Create a healthy lifestyle program. Some businesses encourage their employees to get active and move with programs like a pedometer “10,000 step challenge.” Others offer lunchtime yoga or meditation sessions to lower stress levels.

4      Offer free blood testing and pay for doctor visits. Some employers have physicians available for employees to consult on the job about acute illnesses.

5      Offer gym memberships or create an in-office gym. Employees with access to a gym can exercise during breaks, and studies show employees are more productive when they have exercised during the day.

The Health Benefits

A healthy body means a healthy mind AND healthy profits. The workplace that promotes healthy behavior sees the benefits in the type of work employees produce and in the bottom line. In addition to higher productivity, healthy habits mean cheaper health care costs and fewer workers’ compensation claims.

In the long run, a workplace committed to wellness keeps a business profitable and makes employees, the boss, and their doctors happy.