This year, the flu is more than just a nuisance: it’s killing unusually high numbers of people, many of whom had only mild symptoms at first. As of last week, more than 48 states were still reporting widespread cases of the flu, according to CBS News. Overall, this flu season may cost U.S. businesses as much as $21 billion, predicts consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
How Can You Protect Your Small Business from the Flu?
How can you keep your small business from suffering lost productivity and income? Here are some steps to follow.
- Provide basic flu education. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers useful guidelines for preventing the spread of flu at work that you can share with your employees, such as the importance of frequent hand washing and the correct way to cover coughs and sneezes. Distribute this information to employees and post it in common areas.
- Clean and disinfect your office frequently. Challenger, Gray & Christmas suggests treating common areas and shared workspaces the way gyms treat exercise equipment: Clean them frequently throughout the day using disinfecting wipes. Doorknobs, copier buttons, point-of-sale devices, elevator buttons, stair railings and vending machine buttons are other areas to clean frequently. Finally, don’t forget about computer keyboards. Provide disinfecting wipes your employees can use to wipe down their keyboards regularly (make sure they follow the computer manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning the device.)
- Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine. Employees often skip getting vaccinated because they’re too busy and don’t want to take time to make a doctors’ appointment. Provide lists of local pharmacies that still have flu vaccines and encourage employees to stop by before or after work or during their lunch breaks (or even give them an hour off to do it). Talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility of vaccinating employees at work. Some pharmacies may be willing to come to your location, especially if you join forces with other businesses nearby to offer the vaccinations to a larger number of employees.
- Avoid group gatherings. The trend toward open-space offices could be one of the culprits in this year’s extreme flu season, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. When employees are seated right next to each other without even the barrier of cubicle walls, it’s much easier for viruses to spread. Try to avoid meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary, and keep even essential meetings brief.
- Let employees work from home. Gathering in confined spaces (like offices) with poor air circulation promotes the spread of the flu virus. If you already have employees who can work remotely, encouraging them to do so is a smart way to help keep everyone healthy.
- Send sick employees home. I hope you already offer your employees paid sick days, but even if you don’t normally do so, you may need to make some exceptions until this flu season ends. When you consider the potential cost to your business of an employee with flu coming to work and infecting customers and coworkers, the cost of paying for sick days won’t seem as onerous.
- Provide supplies to encourage good health. Take a cue from schoolteachers and set out pump dispensers of hand sanitizer in common areas or places your employees frequently pass through. Provide plenty of tissues, as well as trashcans for disposing of them. Make sure your employee restrooms are well stocked with hand soap.
- Make a business continuity plan. For small business with only a few employees, a bad case of the flu that spreads through the group can effectively put your company out of business for the duration of the illness. Create a plan for how you will keep your company up and running when key people are out sick, so you won’t let your customers down.
Keeping your employees healthy is a key step in maintaining a healthy business—not just during flu season, but all year long.
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