As hard as it may be to believe, summer is almost over. School has started, football is about to get underway, and many businesses are no doubt excited to have all of their employees back from the vacations that pop up so frequently during the summer. But with fall and winter just around the corner, cold-weather sicknesses are waiting in the wings to undermine the well-being of your employees and your company’s productivity. In fact, in 2015 the CDC estimated that health-related absences “cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the United States”—with a large percentage of these losses stemming from employees who still try to work while sick.
So what’s a business to do? While there’s no way to 100% guarantee employee health (especially if an employee’s child brings the flu home from school), there are preventative measures you can take to provide a healthy environment for your employees and keep sicknesses from decimating your work.
- Keep it Clean — It’s extremely easy for germs to spread, especially when multiple individuals are sharing a relatively small office space. Keeping an adequate supply of cleaning materials on-hand can go a long way in preventing the spread of the flu and other diseases. United Medical Education notes that for those using “communal” areas (like college dorms or offices), hand washing with soap or using alcohol-based sanitizers is one of the best methods to inactivate the flu virus (other than a vaccine, of course). Sanitary wipes are another effective way to kill germs, and should be used to wipe down computer keyboards, telephones, and other commonly used office items.
- Provide Sick Days — For the average office, the greatest risk to employee health stems from sick employees continuing to come in for work. The Huffington Post reports that “one out of every four Americans shows up to work sick,” with a heavy workload and tight deadlines a frequent contributor to this practice. Unfortunately, these sick workers tend to be less productive while also producing lower-quality work than their healthy peers, while also spreading disease to others. Providing paid sick days encourages sick employees to stay home and get the rest they need so everyone in the office can stay healthy. Of course, an effective sick day program starts with the boss—set the example of using your sick days when necessary, and employees will follow suit.
- Encourage Immunizations — As an employer, you can’t force your employees to get their flu shots or to eat right. But you can do your part to motivate them to take these actions for themselves! According to the CDC, flu vaccinations prevented approximately 6.6 million cases of the flu from 2012 to 2013. Employers who actively promote flu vaccinations for their employees (or better yet, offer to pay for all or part of the cost of a vaccination) can go a long way in keeping their employees healthy and reducing the potential losses associated with illness-related absenteeism.
- Be Flexible — Even with your best efforts to provide a healthy workspace, many employers are worried about how they will hit deadlines and accomplish company goals when top employees are out sick. Your best bet—for both the well-being of your employees and the results of your projects—is to provide an additional level of flexibility during the peak season for colds and flu. This could mean providing leeway for healthy employees to take over a project when someone else is sick, or potentially even extending or reorganizing deadlines to adapt for employee illnesses. By creating a flexible environment that ensures nobody is overwhelmed with work due to an illness, you’ll have a lower-stress workspace that keeps your employees happy and healthy.
At the end of the day, the overall health and well-being of your employees isn’t entirely in your control (after all, there’s no telling what home and other activities might bring). But by promoting good health practices and creating a flexible, health-conscious work environment, you’ll be able to keep more of your employees healthy and ensure a more productive workforce throughout the year.