The first official week of fall is here, and along with fluctuating temperatures comes runny noses and scratchy throats. It’s inevitable this time of year. I've actually found myself fighting it these last few days.
The cold and flu season takes its toll on America’s businesses every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu alone costs U.S. businesses $10.4 billion in direct costs — which includes hospitalization and other medical expenses. In addition, illnesses that spread throughout the work environment cause 22 million sick days, which cost businesses significantly in terms of lost productivity. The Healthy Workplace Project estimates a 25-employee company loses $33,000 every year to lost productivity and having to hire temporary workers to replace those who are because of illness.
A nasty cold or flu that works its way through a small business with only a handful of employees is even more problematic. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations just don’t have the back-up support to fill in the gap, which could cost you opportunities. So short of bundling your team and yourself in protective suits for the duration of the season, what can you do to keep your office healthy? Here are 5 tips you can put to use:
Clean. I know that sounds simplistic, but most of us don’t clean our desks, equipment, and offices as regularly as we should. As a result, these surfaces become germ mongers. A University of Phoenix research study found there are more germs on the average office desk than on a toilet seat. (Need I say more?) Keep a supply of anti-bacterial wipes handy and clean regularly — particularly your phone, keyboard, etc.
Keep tissues handy. The last time I had a really bad cold, I went searching for tissues in our office. We were out and I was forced to use toilet paper that day. The next day I went to the big box store nearby and stocked up. Almost 70% of workers admit seeing a co-worker sneeze or cough without using a tissue. By providing tissues around the office and reminding your team to cover their noses and mouths when they cough or sneeze, you can reduce the number of airborne germs in your workplace.
Encourage vaccinations. While you can’t force an employee to be vaccinated, some businesses are bringing health-care professionals on-site to offer flu vaccinations. If that isn’t possible, let your staff know it's fine to take time off during the day to get their flu shot.
Set an example. No matter how sick I am, I want to go to work. I’ve even been known to show up with a 103-degree temperature. But dragging germs into the office doesn’t set a good example for your team. Encourage employees who are truly sick to stay at home. Your staff and your customers/clients will thank you.
Make up time. Some small businesses don’t provide sick days for their employees. If that’s the case, your employees may feel pressured to come into the office. Consider allowing a sick employee to make up the time he or she misses because of illness. Remember, someone who is sick isn’t working at full capacity anyway. Try to accommodate requests to make it work for everyone.