By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly
It's that time of year again, when the sounds of coughing and sniffling can be heard in offices, public transit and just about anywhere else people congregate. It's also that time of year when people are forced to take time off work because of the flu. If you're a small business leader, there are things you should know about the flu and its potential impact.
Some Facts about the Flu
According to the CDC, the flu causes an average of 70 million sick days per year in America, resulting in $7 billion of lost productivity. There are thousands of different viruses circulating in any given flu season. Most only cause unpleasant, cold-like symptoms (aching muscles, chills, sore throat, cough, etc.), but some strains are serious. Over 200,000 people are hospitalized every year from the flu, and between 3000 and 50,000 lives are lost in the United States. The impacts of the flu can be particularly hard for smaller businesses who don't have the resources that larger businesses do. If you've only got three employees and one of them is out for a week, you've essentially lost a quarter of your workforce.
What you Can Do to Prevent the Flu and/or Minimize its Impact
As the old saying goes, a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And the best way to prevent the flu is to encourage your employees to get flu shots. There are a few ways you can go about this. You can give your staff time off during work to go to a health clinic for a shot, or you can host an on-site vaccination at your business. There are companies like Flu Shot For You who will come to your workplace (contact company for quote) and give injections.
Education is another good way of preventing the flu. Most people are unaware how the flu is transmitted, and that measures such as constant hand washing and avoiding touching your face can go a long way in keeping you healthy, and that coughing into a tissue or sleeve can prevent you from passing it on to someone else. Nutrition is another factor: a good, balanced diet helps keep your immune system strong. This can help prevent the flu, or minimize the recovery time needed once you have it. You can help educate your staff in several ways. You can distribute fact sheets or emails about the flu, or you could hire a medical professional to come and speak to your staff if your budget allows it.
Yet another way to combat the flu is to keep tissues, towels and hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes in abundant supply in the workplace. Preferably, each employee will have their own set of supplies to prevent further spread of infection.
While the loss of productivity sucks, sometimes staying home is the best thing you or your employees can do. Staying home helps prevent the spread of infection, and quite frankly it can help employee morale (no one likes working with someone who's really sick). If you work in a customer service capacity, a sick employee might also drive away customers.
To help minimize the disruption, mobile productivity solutions can help, too. For jobs where work is done on computers (e.g. book keeping), allowing remote access (whether to your own server or to a cloud-based platform) lets people get work done from offsite. Enabling laptops, smart phones and tablets for remote business use is a good way to keep things rolling when the flu strikes.
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