The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between October 2018 and January 2019, the number of U.S. flu illnesses ranged somewhere between 9.8 million and 11.4 million cases, with at least 113,000 cases requiring hospitalization.
Everyone knows when cold and flu season is due to come every year — just try making it through the winter without at least a sniffle. But a January report by CBS noted that although the flu season typically sets in during November or December, it started later this year. This means that just when you might start hoping to see some relief from mid-meeting coughing fits, the number of diagnosed flu cases is actually increasing.
Most medical experts say that the flu spreads as people who have the virus cough, sneeze or talk. These bodily functions can spread germs up to about 6 feet away. Whether the flu hits your workplace at the peak of flu season or completely out of the blue, it’s more than likely your employees will be exposed to the flu at some point. With this in mind, how can employers help ward off the flu at work?
Offer Flu Shots at Work Sites
The CDC recommends getting the vaccine before the flu virus begins spreading, ideally no later than at the end of October. But in years like this, it’s still wise to get it even after January, the CDC says. This means that offering the flu vaccine should be an ongoing effort throughout the season.
Even if your organization already offered flu shots earlier in the year, it may be worth providing a second round now in case people didn’t take advantage of their first opportunity. Getting a flu shot might not be at the top of everyone’s list, so consistently engaging employees about the benefits is a good way to increase participation in preventive care options like vaccines.
Consult your health care plan to see if there’s a way you can offer a first or second round of flu shots at your workplace. Making flu shots easy to access could provide the motivation reluctant employees need. Alternatively, provide employees with information about when and where they’re available locally, as well as any copay costs they might encounter.
Provide Opportunities to Work From Home
If your organization has an existing work-from-home policy, flu season is an excellent time to remind employees that this option exists. Emphasize that if they’re not feeling well, your employees should take time off to recover. If they’re feeling well enough to work but don’t want to spread germs, they should consider working from home.
In the event that your business doesn’t have a remote work policy, consider implementing a temporary plan to address concerns about the flu. If you introduced a plan earlier in the season, be sure to extend it to meet this year’s later timeline. Employees will appreciate your support and commitment to maintaining a healthy work environment.
Make Healthy Habits a Priority
Flu season is a good time to reinforce the benefits of healthy habits with employees. Encourage rest — don’t require overtime unless it’s really necessary — and discourage managers from sending nighttime emails or texts to their teams.
Throughout the season, remind employees about simple tactics they can use to avoid catching or spreading the flu, including:
- Washing their hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces
- Covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Maintaining regular annual physical exams
- Managing stress, which can lower immunity
- Drinking ample amounts of fluids
- Eating a balanced and nutritious diet
Ultimately, employees are responsible for their choices when it comes to how to fight the flu. But that doesn’t mean that employers don’t have a role to play in maintaining a healthy workplace. With these simple steps, organizations can do their part to tackle this year’s delayed flu season — and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
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