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Could Your Workplace Policies Be Spreading the Flu?

A flu outbreak in your workplace will make your staff miserable and could drastically reduce production. Avoiding the flu at work takes cooperation between employers and staff, especially when it comes to creating — and enforcing — workplace policies that encourage flu prevention.

If you’re thinking, “there’s no way one of our policies is helping to spread the flu,” we suggest you check our list below. You may be surprised, but how you hold company meetings and where people eat their lunches, could be making your workforce sick.

Policy 1: Sick-Leave Policies

According to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, offering paid sick leave to employees can reduce the spread of influenza in your office by 40 percent. When sick employees lose a day's wages by staying home, only 52 percent opt to stay home and get the rest they need. The 48 percent of employees who come to work sick expose the rest of your workforce to flu germs. When employees are paid for sick leave, 20 percent more will stay home. Consider offering sick leave, even if you don't have a normal paid time off structure. Small businesses that can't afford sick pay can still offer make-up time so sick employees don't feel like a day in bed with the flu will automatically mean a smaller paycheck.

Policy 2: Efficiency at the Cost of Health

As companies struggle to create efficient, cost-effective workforces, some innovative labor ideas may put employees at greater risk. Desk-sharing policies, common work areas and strategic equipment rooms create cubicle-sized petri dishes of cross-contamination. If your workforce shares space in any of these ways, cut back on the spread of flu by providing antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer to help your employees keep germs at bay. Assign personnel to wipe down shared furniture and equipment like copy machines and break-room tables several times a day. Require shift employees who share cubicle spaces to wipe down desks, computer mice, keyboards and phones at the beginning and end of their shifts.

Policy 3: Face-to-Face Isn't Always Better

Gathering the team in one room is an effective way to communicate and many leaders’ preferred method for brainstorming and collaboration. But during flu season, together isn't always better. Huddling around a single conference table, grabbing a bite to eat together, and shaking hands with others are activities that risk the spread of flu. Consider limiting physical meetings and opting for Web meetings or teleconferences during the height of flu season, especially if the bug is hitting your workforce hard. Even if you have a no-work-from-home policy, consider relaxing requirements for special circumstances; if an essential staff member needs to be out sick but is willing to call in to provide information during a meeting, be appreciative of such dedication and allow the call.

Policy 4: Munch & Work Policies

Many companies allow employees to eat at their desks, especially during high-volume seasons. Employees might skip their lunch breaks to grab overtime hours but still chow down on fruit or sandwiches while they work. Crumbs and leftover food create a breeding ground for germs, and the hand-to-face movement required for eating also encourages the spread of flu. If you can't nix the eat-at-your-desk allowance because it will derail productivity or employee morale, make sure you educate employees about the importance of a clean work area and frequent hand-washing.

Make sure to help your workers know when it’s best to stay at home and get better and create an environment and workplace policies that allow them to. Being open to your teams and coworkers about how important it is to you to eliminate the flu at work can make all the difference.

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