Is your office an incubator for seasonal flu? Do you feel like it’s only a matter of time before you or one of your team members falls ill with a virus this winter? Is morale low because workers have to take on their sick colleagues’ duties? Is money being lost to absenteeism? Well, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here we take a look at some common sense tips for preventing bugs from spreading in the workplace and, as result, keeping sick days to a minimum and productivity high.
Promote good hand hygiene
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes handwashing as a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine against illness. You may think that everyone understands the importance of cleaning their hands but apparently some of us are just not doing it, or not doing it right anyway. One study found that faecal bacteria can be found on 26% of hands in the UK and 11% of British hands are considered grossly contaminated.
Promote good hand hygiene habits by putting up posters in toilets and kitchen areas to remind staff of the importance of washing their hands and provide guidance on handwashing technique. These resources can be downloaded from the NHS website. You may also want to circulate emails around the organisation promoting good hygiene habits, especially during the winter.
Be sure that hot water and soap is available in all toilets and kitchens. You should also consider installing cleaning stations at entrance ways and providing hand gel and surface cleaning wipes on desks.
Set up and clean your office properly
It’s important to avoid close contact with people who are ill so, to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea for desks to be spaced as far apart as feasible. Floor screens and partitions are also useful ways of preventing germs from spreading through a busy office.
You should also ensure that all workers have waste bins beside their desks to dispose of tissues and other infected paraphernalia and arrange for bins to be emptied at the end of each day.
It may surprise you to know that the flu virus can survive for up to 24 hours on surfaces so it’s vital that office desks, keyboards, phones and door handles are cleaned thoroughly every day, especially during a flu outbreak.
Offer the flu vaccine
The flu jab is best way to prevent the flu and is most effective when given to healthy adults. To prevent working days from being lost to this highly contagious virus, consider using a corporate flu vaccine service. All you need to do is register your business with the service, decide how many vouchers you want, purchase them and issue them to your employees to redeem at no cost to them. Generally, the more vouchers you buy, the less they cost. Considering how much it could cost your organisation if it were affected by an outbreak of flu, this simple preventative measure is a highly cost-effective solution.
Encourage good general health
To fight off flu, the immune system needs to be in good working order. To protect it, you need to eat and sleep well, exercise regularly and keep stress levels to a minimum. There are many steps you can take to promote a positive health culture in your office. For example, to promote better nutrition, you could provide free healthy snacks on site and replace unhealthy options in vending machines and canteens with healthier alternatives. To encourage your staff to get moving, you could sign your business up to a cycle to work scheme, enabling employees to get a bike tax-free, or offer corporate gym membership. You could also set up an after-work sports team.
If you are an employer, you also have a responsibility to assess and take action to control risks from work-related stress. For example, as part of your duties, you should encourage staff to speak up when their workload is too heavy, ensure that everyone in the business knows how to identify the signs of stress and provide adequate performance reviews. You could also promote flexible working so that employees can choose to work hours that suit them or work from home when appropriate.
Know the signs
Finally, it is vital that everyone in your workforce can identify the signs of flu. Unlike a cold, flu comes on suddenly, often involves fever and aching muscles and makes you feel too sick to get on with your daily activities. People suffering with flu are most infectious on the day their symptoms begin and up seven days after that. If you think you are developing symptoms of flu, it’s best to leave the office.
Many workers feel under pressure to go to work even when their temperature is soaring, their limbs are aching and they’re coughing non-stop. Doing this isn’t helpful for anyone. It’s much better to stay at home until you are over the flu than to risk infecting others and potentially causing disruption to the whole organisation. If you think someone is exhibiting signs of flu, encourage them to go home. If necessary, make it possible for them to access emails and work files while they are off.
Lead by example
As a manager or business owner, you should act as a model for your staff to emulate. So if you want to encourage staff to act responsibly when it comes to sickness, you should also act responsibly yourself by staying away from the office when you are ill. You should also practise good hygiene by ensuring that your office desk and workspace is clean and using cleaning stations before entering and exiting the office.
Of course, it’s not always possible to prevent your office from being affected by flu, but with a few simple preventative measures, you can limit how much your individual workers and organisation suffers.