Every time an employee gets sick, the symptoms last for five to six days — and he or she takes anywhere from four to 40 hours off work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the 2012-2013 cold and flu season under way (and here to stay until May), it’s in your best interest to promote good health at your workplace.
Here are four ways to reduce employee sick days and boost productivity:
1. Promote the benefits of prevention. You can’t force employees to get seasonal flu shots or take steps to prevent illness, but you can increase the likelihood that they will stay healthy through education and accessibility. The CDC offers downloadable signs you can post around the office to stress the importance of good hygiene: For example, remind employees to wash hands for at least 15 seconds to reduce germ transmission by more than 50 percent.
Offer employees time off at the start or end of the workday to get themselves and family members vaccinated. The CDC recommends getting the flu shot as early in the season as possible for maximum effect. Communicate urgency by setting a vaccination deadline for employees and holding a cash prize drawing for those who comply.
2. Discourage sick employees from coming to work. You may fear that staff will “play sick” if you encourage working remotely while ill, but consider the cost of making employees feel as if they have no choice but to report to work sick. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that “presenteeism” (sick employees coming to work) costs employers as much as three times the dollar amount as absenteeism in terms of lost productivity.
Enable remote work by providing employees with the tools and information they need to access email and office servers before they get sick. Make it part of your company culture not to come into work if you’ll risk your own health or that of others.
3. Provide germ-fighting resources. Keep hand sanitizers, tissues, paper towels, garbage cans, and filtered drinking water with clean cups readily available. Favor individually wrapped snack items over community candy jars, platters, and snack bins, to reduce the spread of germs.
Stock the break room with natural immunity builders, such as citrus fruits, fresh veggies, organic raw almonds and honey, and green tea. You can even supply multivitamins and supplements like echinacea and zinc (shown to build immunity in some studies) to encourage preventative health.
4. Allow exercise. Being sedentary, stressed, and trapped indoors fuels illness. Research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that active people are about half as likely to catch a cold as non-exercisers.
Offer flexible work hours and encourage employees to go outdoors, even in the winter, to exercise and reap the health benefits of fresh air and natural light — provided they get their jobs done. Organize “intramural style” basketball leagues, indoor soccer, or running clubs that encourage teamwork, wellness, and stress relief.