If it seems that flu season never ends, that’s because it doesn’t. What can sometimes end is our vigilance to protect ourselves and others against it.
We reached out to Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved for some workplace tips. The company, founded in 1986, is an employee experience leader, providing intuitive, people-first HCM tools.
Tips for Preventing a Flu Outbreak at Your Business
Here’s a Q&A with Mosher on how small businesses can effectively work to prevent a flu outbreak.
Preventing widespread illness is essential to keeping employees at work instead of at home, sick, and unavailable. Too many employees sick at once can really disrupt a small business’s normal operating routines.
Small Business Trends: What are some tips for the use of common office areas, such as break room, copier, phones?
Mosher: It’s important for managers to do what they can to keep their workforce healthy, especially when it feels like flu season may never end. COVID taught us a lot about how we can stay healthier in the workplace. Now it’s time to put that knowledge and hyper awareness to good use in preventing workplace illness.
A great first step to protecting employees is being proactive and implementing preventative measures in common office areas even before seeing an uptick in illness in the office. The pandemic taught us the importance of disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, washing our hands and social distancing when possible.
Start by stocking up on disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues in common spaces. Reinstating these practices and providing supplies helps create a safer environment for employees.
Employers can also consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic in the office which provides a more convenient, accessible way for employees to get vaccinated and protect themselves and their coworkers from the flu. If a business can’t offer a vaccine clinic onsite, resources like HR newsletters or flyers in shared spaces can help employees find locations that offer seasonal flu vaccinations.
Now is also a great time to encourage reminders of healthy practices like how to wash hands properly, covering coughs and sneezes, and identifying what flu-like symptoms are. Small business owners should refer to the CDC website for guidance on preventative actions and resources for employees who may be at high risk for serious flu complications.
Small Business Trends: What guidelines should management set for employees who have flu symptoms? Should they stay home? Should they get a Covid test?
Mosher: It’s important for small business leadership and frontline managers to agree on flu management guidelines and remain consistent in order not to create confusion or accidentally demonstrate favoritism amongst employees. Senior management should educate and advise frontline managers on how to make quick staffing decisions when employees call in sick and what symptoms may constitute sending someone home early.
Employers should advise their team members to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone or after symptoms have improved. Employers can also point their teams to CDC guidance on symptoms for either the flu or Covid-19, to help employees determine if they feel the need to take a Covid-19 test.
Small Business Trends: For businesses that interact with the public, should employees mask?
Mosher: If employees interact with the public, simple preventative measures can help minimize the spread of germs. Employers can provide masks to encourage employees to protect themselves from spreading or contracting the flu, especially if they work with the public. However, mask-wearing should also be combined with other measures, like vaccinations, hand sanitizer, social distancing and disinfecting wipes. Providing various supplies in common areas can keep from getting customers sick and employees from falling ill.
Small Business Trends: What types of sanitizers and disinfectants should be made available?
Mosher: A good place to start with supplies is by stocking up on disinfecting products. Wipes, surface sprays, and hand sanitizer should all be considered.
Employers should encourage a regular cleaning schedule for commonly touched surfaces like phones, shared computers, and printers after each use. Although it might seem awkward to wipe the phone after your coworker uses it, it’s better than letting two employees potentially get sick when it was easily preventable.
Alternatively, disinfectant spray can also help keep larger spaces clean like break rooms. Businesses should also stock up on tissues and masks and place them in common areas that are easily accessible to employees.
Small Business Trends: Should management develop a comprehensive plan for handling workflow and assignments, should an employee or employees be away from work due to the flu?
Mosher: Small businesses are already dealing with limited staff and resources, and the spread of an illness can seriously affect their ability to be productive if multiple employees are sick at the same time. Across most work environments, I think business leaders can be proactive by developing a comprehensive flu plan that identifies how many absences the business can handle before business operations are interrupted. The plan should also address how to keep operations running if too many employees are out sick or have to stay home to take care of kids or older relatives that have fallen ill.
As management develops flu guidelines for employees, they should also create a workflow chart that appropriately and evenly allocates responsibilities to other employees. A complete workflow chart will simply help ensure the business can run as usual despite missing a key member or two.
Managers should also incorporate flexibility in employee schedules where they can stagger shifts or create an alternative schedule so fewer employees are in the office at the same time or in the same warehouse area if, and when, someone falls ill.
Most importantly, I think employers should advocate for workers in any environment, whether it’s in an office, warehouse, retail, delivery, etc. remain cautious and follow good hygiene practices advised by the CDC to keep themselves, their colleagues, and customers safe.
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