Flu in the Workplace
How Flu Spreads in the Workplace and What Can Be Done
Flu can flourish in a workplace environment because of how the virus is spread. Flu is commonly spread from respiratory droplets that can travel up to three feet from the cougher or sneezer. Breathing in these droplets or touching something with the virus on it, like a phone or doorknob, and then touching the eyes, mouth or nose can infect a person.
The more employees there are in a work area, the more chance there is of coming in contact with the virus through the air or shared surfaces.ABSENTEEISM VS. PRESENTEEISM
People are compelled to go to work for several reasons according to a national survey: concern about work not getting done (60%), guilt about missing work (48%), no paid sick days (25%), minimal or no sick time off (24%), fear their boss will be angry (20%) or concern about job loss (18%).Although absenteeism may be a better choice, many choose presenteeism—coming to work while not able to function at a normal level. This may lower productivity, extend illness and infect co-workers.For these reasons, it’s important to limit exposure to others while contagious. Adults can infect others with flu up to one day before symptoms show and up to seven days after getting sick. However, all too often, employees return to work while still infectious.
(Source: Feb. 27, 2006, press release from the National Foundation for Infectious Disease).WHAT BUSINESSES CAN DO
Fortunately, there are several options for businesses to cut down on the spread of flu during the peak of the season.
- Stress the importance of staying home while contagious.
- Invest in IT solutions that allow employees to work from home, if possible, as they feel better but are still contagious.
- Ask janitorial services to give extra attention to wiping down high traffic surfaces like fax and photocopy machines, or the break room microwave.
- Provide disinfecting towels for employees to be proactive.
- Stock the area where employees find over-the-counter aids with Oscillococcinum® to keep productivity high. It reduces the duration and severity of flu-like symptoms* as evidenced by clinical studies, and it does not cause drowsiness. The key is to have it on hand. In one study, researchers found that 63 percent of patients who took Oscillo® within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms showed “complete resolution” or “clear improvement” within 48 hours.1
*These “Uses” have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
1 Papp R, Schuback G, Beck E, et al. Oscillococcinum in patients with influenza-like syndromes: a placebo-controlled double-blind evaluation. British Homeopathic Journal. 1998;87:69-76.
Employees should do their part by calling in sick or avoiding close contact with co-workers when contagious. Practice good “flu etiquette” by covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Wash hands frequently and try not to touch mucus membrane areas like the eyes, mouth or nose that are susceptible to germs. And keep Oscillo handy in a desk drawer to take at the first sign of symptoms.WHY EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES SHOULD CARE ABOUT FLU
Every year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the United States population gets the flu. Estimates of the effect from the common flu strain on productivity vary because of monitoring difficulties. Yet, most statistics demonstrate that businesses should consider the impact.
- “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average worker will be out 2.8 days. If 15 million workers get the flu in a winter, that translates into a cost of nearly $20 billion for U.S. employees. This figure doesn’t even include the cost incurred when employees go to work sick and can’t perform at their peak. It is estimated that these employees who come to work with the flu increase lost workdays by 10 percent to 30 percent.”
(Source: “Combating normal flu virus” by Sharon Kaleta, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Business Insurance, Jan. 23, 2006.)
- The Center for Health Research Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., “calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year.” Sick workers are less productive, take longer to get better and often infect their colleagues.
(Source: Paul Hemp, Harvard Business Review, October 2004.)
- “About 10 percent to 12 percent of all absences from work are because of the flu. That translates to about 15 million lost workdays a year. And that doesn’t count people who come to work sick and perform under par, or healthy workers who stay home to take care of sick relatives.”
(Source: Roslyn Stone, COO of Corporate Wellness, Inc., a healthservice company based in New York City. Tallahassee Democrat, Nov. 17, 2005.)
- In a typical year, it is estimated that flu in the workplace may result in as much as $10 billion in lost productivity.
(Source: David Cutler, Harvard University health economist. “Flu vaccine shortage could cost the U.S. $20 billion,” Associated Press, Oct. 21, 2004.)
- “Memorial Hospital in Colorado cites statistics showing that an average of 75 million workdays is lost to viral illness in the U.S. every year. Flu-stricken employees miss an average of three workdays. This costs companies about $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity.”
(Source: “Enlisting Keyboard in the Fight against Flu” by Tom Gaudio. NJBIZ, Oct. 24, 2005.)
- “Flu costs American businesses nearly $12 billion annually in lost productivity.”
(John Beckley, Director, Hunterdon County Department of Health. Courier News, Bridgewater, N.J., Nov. 3, 2005.)