What to Do About the Flu in the Workplace

Animated man with the flu

Flu season is upon us. Most flu activity peaks between December and February, though it can last as late into the spring as May. Whether your employees have already opted to get the flu shot (which is recommended) or have no intention of doing so, it’s almost inevitable that they will suffer from at least one illness this winter, whether it’s the flu, a cold or another infection.

According to the CDC, the flu can cause workers to lose up to 111 million workdays at an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity in the U.S.

Flus are different than colds. However, flu symptoms often mimic cold symptoms, making it hard to identify your ailment at the first onset of symptoms. But you’ll find the flu far more severe, as it attacks the body more quickly and is often accompanied by fever. Recovering from the flu can take anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.

The best defense against the flu is to avoid contracting it in the first place. Here are a few tips to give everyone in the workplace a better chance at staying healthy in the coming months.

Prevent Flu in the Workplace

  1. Promote hand washing through posters. The most important way to fight the spread of infection is frequent and thorough hand washing. Posters can include the following steps:
  • Wet hands and generously lather with soap.
  • Scrub your hands, between your fingers, under nails, wrists, and forearms with for 15–20 seconds.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Dry your hands with a single use towel or air dryer.
  1. Communicate to staff that germs can live on surfaces for weeks, even months. After thorough hand washing, it’s important to keep hands clean. Door handles, computer keyboards, telephone receivers, coffee pot handle and especially the faucet or soap dispenser in the washroom are all crawling with germs. Try to clean all surfaces and objects before touching them, particularly if an item is shared within a workspace. If cleaning isn’t an option, don’t bring your hands to your face and re-wash your hands if you’ve been in contact with anything you think might be carrying germs.
  2. Arrange for a flu clinic at the workplace. Plan ahead—most flu shot providers need at least four weeks in advance to schedule and organize a clinic. Have people sign up in advance (setting appointments is the most effective method) so you can gauge how many people will participate. Send out a reminder the day before to ensure people can plan accordingly—wear loose fitting clothing or ensure their sleeves can be rolled up high enough to accommodate the injection site.
  3. Educate workers on influenza signs and symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Encourage employees to stay home if they’re sick in order to stop the spread of illness throughout the office.
  4. Revisit your corporate wellness program. A corporate wellness program takes a proactive approach to educate workers before they get sick. Eating healthy can help fight off infection and a lack of sleep plays a huge factor in how your body staves off illness. Other contributing factors include stress and fitness.  

Be proactive this flu season—the power to stop the flu depends on you.