While anyone can get the flu any time of year, we’re especially susceptible during the fall and winter months. That means: Welcome to flu season! For businesses and their employees, flu season often means absenteeism and reduced productivity. Consider the following statistics:

  • The average worker will miss 2.8 days of work because of the flu.
  • About 10-12% of all absences from work are because of the flu.
  • Flu in the workplace may result in as much as $10 billion in lost productivity.

Fortunately, a deliberate approach to flu prevention along with a plan of action for when it does hit can reduce the amount lost in productivity.

Flu Prevention and Reduction in the Workplace

Prevention by far serves as the best approach to reducing flu in the workplace, though keeping it out altogether is likely impossible. Following these 5 tips will set any business up for a strong resistance to “” and at the very least a reduction in “” the flu among employees.

  1. Emphasize proper flu hygiene. That means washing hands frequently. Soap and water is best when combined with 10-20 seconds of scrubbing, but alcohol-based wipes or gels are a solid alternative. In addition, cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing since most viruses are spread through mucus even up to 6 feet away. Get into the habit of coughing and sneezing into your elbow to keep germs off hands. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth since germs spread easily from surfaces to hands to face.
  2. Wash frequently used surfaces regularly. Individuals can wipe down work areas frequently, and cleaning crews can pay special attention to high-use surfaces during flu seasons. Those areas include phones, desks, door handles, drinking fountains, break room surfaces and computer keyboards.
  3. Encourage staying home when sick. Since employees who come to work with the flu actually increase the amount of sick days by 10-30%, encourage any employee who is sick to simply stay home. Not only will they recover more quickly and return to work sooner, they’ll avoid spreading the flu to their coworkers. If the temptation to work is too great, find ways to work from home when you have the flu.
  4. Educate all employees. Make sure everyone knows the common signs and symptoms of the flu. In addition, consider a flu vaccine education program to help employees realize the benefits “” and possible drawbacks “” of flu immunization, including both the flu shot and the nasal vaccination. Also consider providing information on over-the-counter and alternative methods for preventing and minimizing the flu.
  5. Consider face masks for certain situations. Recent studies suggest that when used properly, face masks can help prevent the spread of the flu virus by 70% in some instances. However, wearing face masks must be paired with regular hand washing in order for them to be effective. Also, the type of mask matters since loosely-fitting, disposable masks protect against splashes and sprays but not against small particles while N95 masks protect against 95% of all airborne particles. Masks may be too inconvenient and unnecessary in most cases, but for some situations “” such as health care workers caring for flu patients or the immunosuppressed like the elderly and those with other illnesses “” may call for this more extreme measure.

Up to 20% of the population gets the flu yearly, and there are about 23,600 flu deaths on average per year. By far, the best approach to fighting the flu is preventing it. From basic measures like hand washing to more extreme measures like wearing a face mask, taking the time to develop a flu prevention plan for your workplace can help ensure that productivity doesn’t get hit by the flu virus.