Cold and Flu Season

Monday, August 28, 2017

As I see all of the sales for school supplies and signs for flu shots pop up around the city I am reminded that it is nearly back to school time.  This of course means that it is time for the heavy first round of cold and flu germs to begin to make their rounds.  Soon in stores, restaurants, and businesses of all kinds, we will be greeted by the workers and guests alike with red noses and perhaps a nagging cough.  We all have that moment when we realize that we are in direct contact to an exposure to illness that we aren’t interested in contracting.

For business owners it can be more than an inconvenience.  Proactive employers work to minimize the impact that a prolonged cold and flu season can have on their businesses.  Later I will discuss how to minimize the impact and share some great free resources to help you.  First let’s look at some hard facts about cold and flu season in relation to the workplace. did an article a while back providing numbers related to the cost cold and flu season has to business owners.  And based on these numbers the threat cold-and-flu season poses to companies isn’t anything to sneeze at!

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu alone costs U.S. companies $10.4 billion in direct costs including hospitalizations and outpatient visits. The CDC also estimates up to one-fifth of the U.S. population will get the flu in a given flu season, and more than 200,000 Americans will be hospitalized with seasonal, flu-related complications.”

Many question the effectiveness of the flu vaccination so it should come as no surprise that the Washington Post reported in January of 2013 that only 35 percent of those who could be vaccinated were vaccinated for the 2012/2013 cold and flu season.

In the current economy where so… many are struggling financially, many employees are hesitant to take sick days. Staples Advantage, the business-to-business arm of office products retailer Staples Inc., found 65 percent of employees are coming to work sick. Only 80 percent are cleaning their work areas once a week or less, which makes any work area a potential hot zone for germs.

So as is true each year, employers will face one persistent bug after another beginning this fall and carrying through to the spring. Small businesses always suffer a harder hit with productivity losses due to seasonal illness. With a small workforce each employee is vital to the operation of the business each and every day. 

So what can you do?

Luckily the flu season is predictable, and there are simple things you can do that are not expensive.  The first place to begin is with strong policies, good management and a healthy dose of leadership regarding sickness in the workplace.  And the first questions would be… do you have a documented sick policy in place?  And does that policy include sick leave?

Here are 10 things both you and your employees can do to keep cold and flu from disrupting your workplace this year.


  1. Encourage employee vaccinations. Encourage employees to get vaccinated but stop far short of requiring it.
  2. Set an example. Don't contradict your own sick policies. If employees see the boss coming to work sick instead of staying home, they'll think they should do the same thing.
  3. Wash your hands. Studies show hand washing is still one of the most effective ways to stop illness. Try posting humorous reminders about hand washing in the break rooms and restrooms.
  4. Use your elbow. Who wants to shake the hand of someone who has just sneezed all over it? Teach employees to cough into their elbows instead.
  5. Provide sanitizing products. Provide hand sanitizer, wipes, disinfecting sprays and towels for employees to clean their desks and keyboards a few times a week, if not daily.  Provide boxes of Kleenex as well.    
  6. Tell sick employees to stay home. Do employees feel comfortable taking sick days when they're really sick? It's your job as a leader to make sure employees know they should stay home when they're contagious. After all you don’t want them to infect your customers or other staff members. 
  7. Plan for seasonal increased sick days. Prepare telecommuting options for contagious employees. Most employees, if given the option, can work a little bit from home.
  8. Promote personal space. "Social distancing" techniques such as refraining from handshakes and standing at least 3-feet apart can slow the spread of cold and flu during peak season. 
  9. Go hands-free. Moving toward hands-free appliances such as automatic sinks, toilets, automatic soap, and paper towel dispensers could pay off down the line in saved sick days.
  10. Vaccinate your children. Schools are germ factories. Your kids get sick, and then you get sick. Vaccines are a matter of parental debate, but the flu shot (or flu mist) is still the best bet for maintaining wellness at home.

I want to share some awesome free resources.  The first is Healthy Workplace Project.  This website, run by health products supplier Kimberly-Clark Worldwide Inc., educates employers and employees about germs in the workplace and how to reduce workplace absences due to illness.  There are even short videos you could share with your employees. Check out this resource for a great proactive wellness program to implement in your office today!

Follow the link to a fantastic free “toolkit” from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  This is another great tool for your business to start building a solid policy for your workplace sickness policy.

Make It Your Business To Fight The Flu: A Toolkit for Businesses and Employers

Happy employees = Happy employers!



And remember, little things employers do also can send a big message. For example, I read an article about an employer who sent a pizza to an employee who was out with a bad cold. This "get well" gesture may seem like an odd thing to do, but the employee definitely knew that his employers cared.  And this sent a positive message to the other employees as well. 


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