If your office remains infected with sneezing, coughing, aching workers who should be at home in bed during flu season, it could be because they're afraid to use their sick leave.
According to a survey by EAP provider ComPsych, one-third of employees say that heavy workloads prevent them from taking time off to rest, and 26 percent admit it feels "risky" to miss work. Just 23 percent of employees surveyed said they put their health above their jobs.
Sick employees who drag themselves to work may be present, but they're not productive. For that reason, HR should encourage employees to use their sick leave when sick. It could actually increase productivity in the long term.
Indeed, the American Medical Association estimates that flu costs employers $1 billion a year in missed workdays and treatment.
Encourage healthy habits. Some organizations successfully keep sick employees from spreading the flu around the office.
Examples: Bayer Corp., Mellon Financial and others use e-mail and company intranets to make sure employees know to wash their hands often, cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze and stay home when they're sick. Bayer distributed flu prevention kits that include hand wipes, cough drops, vitamin C tablets and tea bags.
Office workers at Children's Health System in Birmingham, Ala., got doses of flu mist, an effective prevention aid. It also supplied discounted flu mist to families of employees who had prescriptions for it. Offices are plastered with CDC posters advising employees to sneeze into their sleeves, wash their hands and disinfect telephone receivers before using them.
Keep sick employees at home. F+M Creative, a North Carolina marketing firm, lends laptop computers to employees who stay home with the flu so they can work from home when they feel better rather than reporting to the office while they're still contagious.
You can slow the spread of seasonal ailments by encouraging stricken employees to use their sick days. Here are some strategies other organizations have successfully used:
- Allow employees to telework during flu season. That allows recovering employees who feel better but are still contagious (you can spread germs for up to 10 days) to avoid claiming sick days, while healthy employees can dodge their co-workers' germs.
- Cross-train employees so a multi-day absence doesn't disrupt work flow. Employees who know their jobs are covered might be more willing to rest at home when they're sick.
- Distribute information about healthy flu-season practices. Download CDC information and posters at www.cdc.gov/flu/workplace.
- Encourage employees to eat right and exercise, especially in the post-holiday weeks when more people are prone to illness and depression.
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