How to Handle Flu Season in the Workplace

by | Nov 17, 2021

Home » Blog » Benefits » Wellness » How to Handle Flu Season in the Workplace

It’s that time of year again. As the air gets colder and more people cozy up inside, workplaces must grapple with more than just coronavirus safety. They also have to consider the risk of influenza. Thanks to COVID 19 mitigation measures like masks, hand-washing, staying home, and increased ventilation, last year’s flu season saw just .2% of flu tests return a positive result, compared to around 30% during the 2019-2020 season. This year, however, experts warn flu season could be even more severe than normal. In this post, we’ll outline a few tried-and-true tips to help employees stay healthy and avoid the flu in the age of COVID.

Support Workplace Flu Safety with a Remote Work Culture

If you haven’t already implemented a remote or hybrid work model because of the pandemic, this may be the right time to reconsider. Remote work enables employees to save on commuting costs, contributes to a better work-life balance — and is an easy solution to preventing flu transmission in close quarters where social distancing isn’t possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), employees who have flu-like symptoms should stay home until 24 hours after their fever ends. Parameters may differ for other infections, but the safest option, especially during flu season and with COVID 19 precautions in mind, is to encourage employees to go home when they feel unwell and stay there until they feel better.

That’s an easier sell when employees can log on from home. But even when they know they should stay home, it might be tempting to come in for an important meeting. Some of us were taught that you should come to work unless you’re on death’s door. But after a highly transmissible virus shut down businesses across the globe, there’s a strong case for shedding that attitude.

If remote work is a possibility for your company, you can minimize your risk around flu season by encouraging employees to work from home when they’re feeling “off.”

Is requiring employees to show up in-person worth getting a fellow coworker — or their child — sick? Consider what you can do to make the choice easier. It might be a matter of reminding employees that remote work doesn’t have to be justified with a doctor’s note, or simply encouraging them to log on from home if they notice any symptoms.

Like most company culture shifts, this one also starts at the top. You can encourage leaders to set an example and work from home when experiencing flu symptoms. Seeing my boss log off early when he feels ill instead of “powering through” makes me feel comfortable doing the same when I’m under the weather.

When employees are sick enough to take time off work, virtual care services like telemedicine can help them find relief fast. With the pandemic stretching into a third year, many of your employees are likely to be familiar with this benefit. What’s more, you can feel good reminding them about telemedicine when they’re experiencing flu symptoms: In one impact study, 79% of surveyed patients were satisfied with the care they received during their last telehealth visit.HealthJoy’s virtual urgent care providers typically meet with patients in about 10 minutes, allowing them to skip the waiting room, minimize their exposure to COVID19, and prevent potentially spreading the flu virus. Our medical professionals can even prescribe medications like Tamiflu, meaning employees can get what they need to start feeling better without stepping foot into an office.

Focus Wellness Initiatives Around Flu Season

Wellness initiatives have grown in popularity as employers recognize that preventive care might help them get a handle on wildly rising healthcare costs. Preventive care has its place in smoothing workplace flu season, too, since a healthy workplace is less vulnerable to sickness. You can start early with preventive wellness screenings, flu shots, and healthy eating campaigns. Once flu season is here, consider rolling a few of these immune-boosting initiatives as well.

  • Make water more appealing. No matter how hard we try, offices can’t run on coffee alone. It’s tough to stay hydrated when the weather is cold, but hydration is especially important during flu season. To make it more appealing, offer sparkling water and herbal tea in addition to caffeinated beverages.
  • Order healthy options for company lunch. Pizza may be inexpensive, but offering employees healthier options with plenty of fruit and vegetables is a better bet for workplace immunity.
  • Encourage physical activity. Does your company offer a gym stipend or have an on-site fitness center? Encourage a lunchtime workout group. If not, can you organize a group discount at a local gym or studio? Exercise boosts immune health, so doing everything you can to encourage physical activity is especially important during flu season.
  • Offer opportunities for stress relief. Stress affects immune health, and during a particularly busy season, can leave your entire workplace exposed. Whether it’s in-office yoga, regular lunchtime walks, or a quiet room to decompress, give employees space to blow off steam throughout the day.
  • Highlight virtual medicine. Offer a lunch-and-learn highlighting your telemedicine benefit, how to access it, and how it can help. Do they need to dig up a certain number or access a specific website? Employees with HealthJoy can easily access medical professionals from their phone without navigating a maze of numbers.
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Stay Vigilant About Seasonal Flu

Most of your employees will have had the flu at least once. They probably remember it as an uncomfortable experience which, for most of us, ended after a few days. When we’re relaxed about flu season, we get careless with the simple steps the CDC says are best at preventing their spread. That can be especially deadly for vulnerable populations. Skipping your flu shot or carelessly sneezing on a coworker might mean giving the virus to an elderly relative or a pregnant partner, and that can be deadly.

It’s important that employees stay vigilant about their symptoms. To break through the noise, come up with creative ways to remind employees of basic flu safety steps like washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home.

Consider the communication channels where employees already hang out. An email or Slack channel message might be enough of a reminder for employees to step up their hand-washing. Push notifications and SMS messages tend to hit even more forcefully, so they can work for critical reminders, like a flu shot. If your company has this technology or works with HealthJoy’s benefits navigation platform, flu season is the perfect time to put push notifications to use

Make a Vaccination and Disaster Plan

As you make decisions regarding the recent COVID vaccine mandate, don’t forget that encouraging flu shots is also vital for keeping your workforce healthy through the season. The CDC recommends that employers encourage their employees to get flu shots. Flu shots not only prevent your risk of illness and reduce the severity of symptoms, but also protect the people around you.

Offer them at an on-site or partner clinic, or remind employees via email, Slack, or SMS if their employee benefits will cover a vaccination. Give employees time to get a vaccination during the workday if you can’t offer them onsite.

As you approach the flu season, it’s also essential to establish a disaster plan that covers illness. Make sure management knows what to do if a majority of employees fall ill. Consider establishing an emergency action plan that includes illness, even if it isn’t required. You can never be too careful.

Build a Culture That Supports Seasonal Wellness

No matter what the headlines say, the basics of workplace wellness during flu season remain the same. Emphasizing remote work whenever possible, encouraging basic wellness, and finding new ways to communicate old safety steps are critical in preventing the spread of seasonal flu in the workplace.

When employees are sick, remind them that virtual health visits are often a faster, healthier, and less expensive solution.

In the end, adding virtual care and emphasizing flu season safety are steps toward creating the kind of company culture where employees feel empowered to keep themselves and their coworkers healthy.

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