January and February tend to be the peak of cold and flu season in the United States, which means small businesses all over America may feel like they’re hosting a kind of Winter Olympics for viruses.
Since office-place sniffles have been known to linger well into May, it’s not too late to combat communicable disease, boost cold-weather productivity, and avoid the costly mistakes that tend to rise with our temperatures.
How? Develop a workplace wellness program to promote employee health! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website provides four reasons why healthier employees are good for business:
- Healthy employees are less likely to take time off due to illness.
- Businesses that support workplace health have more employees at work every day.
- Good employee health often translates to good family health – employees tend to spend less time at home caring for sick family members.
- Wellness programs can reduce “presenteeism,” which happens when sort-of sick employees come in and have a terrifically unproductive day because they’re sniffling or sneezing the whole time.
Influenza is among the most costly of all preventable illnesses. Below we discuss a few ways that your business can fight the flu – and save money. For more information on workplace wellness programs in general, check out our blog “Employee Wellness Programs: How Small Businesses Can Reap the Rewards.”
3 Flu-Fighting Tips from Physicians, Nurses, and Nutritionists
Physicians, nurses, nutritionists, and other healthcare professionals have come up with a few tried and true methods for preventing the flu. These tips will hardly cost your business anything more than a bit of education and vigilance.
- Encourage your employees to get vaccinated. According to the CDC, studies have shown that vaccinated employees “experienced significantly fewer days of influenza-like illness, made fewer doctor visits for such illnesses, and took fewer days off from work than did workers who were not vaccinated.” The Affordable Care Act mandates that all health insurance policies cover vaccines such as the one for influenza, so employees don’t have to worry about the financial burden. You can also offer in-house vaccination days at your place of business to allow employees can get vaccinated and return immediately to work.
- Encourage your employees wash their hands. Many people don’t regularly wash their hands – and many who do wash improperly. The CDC recommends that hands be washed using water and a lather of soap for a full 20 seconds before rinsing under clean water. Hands should be dried using a paper towel or air dryer. You can also encourage employees to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door with a paper towel before throwing it away – there’s no point in washing your hands if you immediately contaminate them with a germy doorknob! For more information and free posters, visit the CDC’s Handwashing website.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home. Many employees don’t want to miss work when they’re ill, and so they come in anyway and infect the whole team. Try to establish a workplace environment that doesn’t make sick people feel guilty for staying home.
Sick employees at work just aren’t worth it. Besides the potential for infecting other workers, sick employees get less done and may make errors and omissions that they otherwise wouldn’t, putting your business at risk for insurance claims.
How Much Does Influenza Really Cost Small Businesses?
It’s easy for small-business owners to underestimate the cost of common illnesses like influenza. But according to the CDC, influenza is the cause of about 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year. It’s true that complications due to influenza mostly affect the very old and the very young – but that doesn’t mean your workforce doesn’t take a hit.
Researchers estimate that, each year, influenza is responsible for:
- $6.2 billion in indirect costs, mostly due to lost productivity.
- 17 million lost workdays among adults age 18 to 64 years.
Influenza – and the fever, coughing, and fatigue that accompany it – can also cloud your employees’ judgment and cause them to make costly professional mistakes. Studies have found that fatigue alone can:
- Reduce decision-making ability.
- Reduce reaction time (both in action and thought).
- Increase tendency for risk-taking.
- Increase errors in judgment.
- Increase accident rates.
All of these increase your business’s risk of a costly Errors and Omissions / Professional Liability lawsuit. Not to mention potential Workers’ Compensation claims. (For more this subject, read our “Managing Workers’ Comp Costs by Offering Fitness Opportunities” blog.)