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Flu in the Workplace: How To Minimize the Impact

Flu in the Workplace: How To Minimize the Impact

Flu season in Ontario runs from late fall to early spring. So far flu cases have doubled, and all reports suggest this flu season will be an especially bad one. The flu and other illnesses cost employers billions in lost revenue and productivity in Canada each year.

How Flu is Spread in the Workplace

The flu is spread by airborne respiratory droplets. After a sneeze or cough, those droplets can travel up to 13-20 feet at speeds of around 35 to 40 mph. Breathing in those droplets or touching surfaces with the virus on it and then touching eyes, mouth and nose causes infection.

Colds and flu can have an incredibly negative impact on your business. The more employees you have per square foot, the higher the risk of coming in contact with the virus through shared surfaces. The flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours. Economically, the flu has an astounding impact:

  • Absenteeism: Around 111 million workdays are lost in Canada each flu season.
  • Healthcare costs: including over the counter medications and hospitalizations for severe cases.
  • Presenteeism: A Health Services Research Report by Philip Susser and Nicolas R. Ziebarth found that the costs of reduced work productivity due to presenteeism can exceed the medical costs for some conditions while drugs that suppress flu symptoms reinforce the spread of flu due to employees showing up for work while still contagious but feeling better due to the remedies.

Steps to Minimize the Spread of Flu in the Workplace

  1. Encourage your employees to stay home while they are contagious. Remember, if staff is generally healthy, they remain contagious with flu for about 5 days after the onset of symptoms. If the employee has a weakened immune system from another condition, that person can remain contagious for up to two weeks.
  2. Invest in IT solutions that allow employees to work from home when still contagious but well enough to work. Employees are more likely to stay home if they are not losing pay or sick days and your productivity stays higher.
  3. Confer with your janitorial/cleaning company prior to flu season. Ask them to give extra attention to wiping down and sanitizing high traffic surfaces:
    • fax/photocopier machine
    • telephones odoor knobs
    • elevator buttons
    • microwave
    • coffee machine
    • break room
  4. Remind staff to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel.
  5. Have sanitary wipes available for employees to wipe down their own work areas regularly.
  6. Encourage employees to get the flu shot. In Ontario, the flu shot is free. It takes two weeks before the immunization is effective. If you are a high-volume employer, you could arrange with the local health unit to have a flu clinic at your facility to ensure as many employees as possible are vaccinated. 

Flu season can be a killer of the very young, the very old and immune compromised individuals. It is also a killer of workplace productivity resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue yearly in Canada. Workers are less focused and productive when ill They often come to work sick because of fear of reprisals if due dates are not met or financial restrictions making time off without pay prohibitive or the fear of using up limited paid sick days too soon in the year.

Regardless of the reasons, absenteeism and presenteeism due to the flu can be detrimental to your bottom line. Set up a protocol for your staff and facility using the above guidelines. Overall, your staff will be healthier keeping your facility running smoothly and efficiently even during an especially harsh flu season.

Don't feel your janitorial company is up to snuff protecting your facility from the ravages of flu season? Call Corporate Specialty Services for a more thorough in-depth cleaning and disinfection.

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