Winter can be a bad time of year for staff illnesses. Cold and flu start making the rounds, and when one person has it, chances are their desk buddy will catch it the next week, too. Before you know it, you’ve spent weeks working at a lower capacity to the summer months. This can be inconvenient as well as damaging for client relations and ongoing projects.
What’s more, illness costs employers a lot too. According to personneltoday, sickness costs UK employers an average of £16 billion or a median cost of £11 billion. The public sector has, traditionally, suffered from higher rates of sickness absence, compared with the private sector. Public sector workers tend to have around 8 days off for sickness a year, and private sector employees tend to have around 5.
It is important as an employer to recognise the impact that this can have on your business, especially if you are a small business or SME – but also larger organisations where flu can simply take down whole departments at a time!
Here are some tips for ensuring your staff stay as well as they can do:
Encourage hand washing and good hygiene
It is important to encourage good hygiene around your offices. Germs can be picked up so easily by touch alone. Make sure soap dispensers are topped up in bathrooms and also invest in an antibacterial gel for hands, as well as spray in kitchen areas. Germs can live on surfaces for up to two weeks! So it is important that everything is given a thorough clean.
Invest in fruit
Many of your staff members may be surviving on chocolate bars and crisps to get them through the day – and of course, who are you to say what they can and cannot eat? You can, of course, encourage staff to eat fruit by buying a fruit basket each week and leaving it in the staff room. Not only does this show employees you care, but according to a survey by Fruitful Office, a workplace fruit distribution company, over 80% of their clients told them that following the introduction of fruit in the office there were tangible benefits. “Quality of life in the office” improved and 70% of staff started eating more fruit. Fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals vital for maintaining a healthy immune system – allowing your staff to fight off those colds and viruses when they get in contact with them.
Talk to your staff about the flu jab
Some organisations, especially in the public sector, pay for their employees to have the flu jab once a year. This is usually around October or November, when cases of the flu begin to rise. Flu is more than just a bad cold, flu can completely take out a person for several weeks and have a severe impact on their health for the whole season. By getting the flu jab, you are allowing your body to interact with a muted version of the virus that your body can fight. Other than perhaps a little sniffle, most people react well to the flu vaccination and their body can fight the flu virus if it gets into contact with it. It is also wise to get children vaccinated. Currently, the NHS is offering free flu vaccinations for children at school or at their local GP office. It is especially important that children have the flu jab if they suffer from breathing conditions such as asthma. By vaccinating your children, you can decrease the chance of the flu passing round your family and getting to you – for you to pass on to your colleagues. If you can’t get a nurse in to do the vaccinations, allow your staff a morning off to go to the pharmacy and have one.
Rest up in the early days
It is important that staff don’t feel pressured to come in when they start feeling ill. Usually, this is when they are most infectious and can pass their germs around, but also it does mean that they can get some rest and actually have some time to recover from the virus before it gets too bad. A bad cold can turn into bronchitis or migraine problems which only means they need more time off work in the long run. Explain carefully to employees that you care about them, and want them to recover, and offer to cover their work until they get better. Don’t expect staff to be checking their emails too much from home, but equally, don’t let them fall off the radar, and make sure you do check in with them from time to time. Consult your HR department about what to do for the best in terms of long-term illness.