How to Ward Off Workplace Germs this Cold and Flu Season
Achoo! Does the thought of a sneeze circulating the office this season just send you ducking under the desk? ‘Tis the season of tinsel and throat tickles, mistletoe and runny noses. The holiday season and germs seem to just go hand-in-unwashed-hand. And while that might affect your holiday, it also causes a great deal of disruption to the workplace. When people aren’t feeling 100%, they’re not going to give their 100%. And just one person out due to illness can affect a whole line of productivity, ultimately affecting deadlines and your bottom line. As the office manager, how can you ensure a healthy, productive office this cold and flu season? We’ve put together a few tips:
1. Schedule Additional or Specialized Office Cleans: In addition to encouraging your employees to focus on their own personal hygiene and office space cleanliness, are you following suit? How clean is the workplace? Most organizations schedule office-wide cleanings two or three times a week, but during this flu and cold season, this could be a good time to consider ramping up the office cleaning schedule or schedule more regular thorough cleanings. Just because a surface looks clean, doesn’t mean it doesn’t house unwelcomed germs. Some flu viruses can survive up to 24 hours on some surfaces. Run a quick audit on the services you’re being provided. Ensure your cleaning company is using effective products to eliminate germs and bacteria, especially on commonly touched areas such as:
light fixtures and switches
breakroom surfaces like faucets and refrigerators
keyboards and mice
Also make sure the cleaning company or janitorial staff you use will empty all the office-wide trash cans daily, as these can house germ-ridden items like used tissues.
2. Install Sanitizing Stations: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to reduce all types of germs and chemicals on hands, but it may not be feasible for people to run to the bathroom or breakroom to wash their hands after every sneeze. Alternatively, imagine your workplace map: how many door handles and surfaces would they need to touch on their way to the bathroom? It becomes counterproductive.
If soap and water are not easily accessible for your associates, consider installing a hand sanitizer station or drop off individual sanitizers to each desk. Be sure to select a sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60% of alcohol in it, as alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands. When you strategically install hands-free soap dispensers and hand sanitizing stations around high traffic areas in the hallways, common areas, and near doorways, you can encourage the adoption of healthier behaviors and reduce the risk of spreading germs or infection within your workplace at a relatively low cost to your company (or it could be tax-deductible!). Make sure to keep your office clean whenever possible by always having plenty of cleaning products on hand.
3. Be Flexible: If you want to reduce the chances of spreading the cold and flu, the key is to keep sick people away from those who are not sick. Easier said than done, especially in the workplace. Too often, people prioritize work above their health, causing them to bring their germs with them into the workplace. How can you best prevent that? As an employer, you should try to review and clearly communicate your sick leave policies and practices before the flu and cold season kicks in. A simple email, office-wide memo, or poster hung in a high traffic area should help get the message across. Remind them that if they’re experiencing the following symptoms, they could be contagious:
fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
runny or stuffy nose
nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
Getting well takes time, so it is important to advise people to stay home. The CDC suggests that individuals with the flu are most contagious during the first 3 days of their illness and should not return to work until they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours. If an employee is well enough to work–but still contagious —make it clear that he or she should stay home and work remotely, if possible. Naturally, not every workplace can accommodate remote work, but if yours can, give your employees the opportunity to stay home, stave off spreading illness in your workplace.
Try to encourage an office culture where people feel encouraged to stay home when they’re feeling ill. Avoid negative communication about an employee taking sick time and consider foregoing the mandatory doctor note policy, if you have one. Flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules can help prevent the spread of flu in the workplace, so if you can, allow employees to continue to work or function while limiting contact with others, help maintain continuity of operations, and help people manage their health and their family’s needs.
4. Bring the Flu Vaccine to your Employees: You can cover your mouth or wash your hands all day long, but the most effective way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. However, depending on your associate’s work-life balance, it may be difficult for them to find time to get the vaccine. If possible, consider hosting a vaccine clinic onsite. You could even partner with a local healthcare provider to come in and offer informative sessions and provide complimentary flu vaccines. By having it available at work, employees can decrease time missed from work, can help reduce the cost of productivity loss, and boosts overall office morale.