As winter approaches the warnings about the flu start to abound. Well here is one more. Two articles I read have prompted this post. The first was about what to do in the office to prevent, or at least diminish the effect of the flu, and the second was about the worry that health officials have about the improper use of antibiotics by people in the United States. To me these things add up to a formula for disaster and here is the formula:
Flu + Crowded Office + Antibiotic Overuse = Disaster for Your Company
Poor use of antibiotics
According to writer Eryn Brown, writing in the Los Angeles Times “Public health officials worry about antibiotic overuse and misuse because they can promote the development of drug-resistant strains of bacteria that are invulnerable to medical treatment.” We have already seen the development of this in a very potent TB strain that is difficult to treat and hospitals are reporting similar problems in urinary tract infections in women.
There are apparently regional differences in how antibiotics are used around the country which you can see in this graphic on use and resistance. If you are a business in the Southeast you need to be more concerned than companies out on the west coast.
Preparing your office for the flu
Roy Maurer, writing for SHRM, provides some guidance for how you can prepare your office for dealing with the flu season. He says “Employers need to prepare their employees for influenza, and that includes encouraging flu shots, examining sick leave policies, initiating and communicating basic flu prevention strategies, and ensuring cleanliness in the workplace.” There are two key things I think need to be emphasized to safeguard you company.
The first of these is to tell your sick employees to stay home. The Department of Health and Human Services recommended that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends without the use of medication. They provide the Seasonal Flu Information for Businesses & Employers that has a toolkit to help employers defend their work place. One of the suggestions is that during the flu season employers need to adopt a more liberal sick leave policy.
The reality of being at work sick is that you are not very productive, I don’t care who you are. Realize that your employees are not only not doing their best work they are spreading the infection. If there is a project that needs to get finished and that ONE person has to work on it then set them up as much as possible to work offsite. Yes I realize not all work can be done that way, but you might be able to do something creative as a work around. Besides, you probably need to have someone else that can fill in on for the ill person anyway. That is just good replacement planning.
Maurer writes “The CDC stated that up to 80 percent of flu cases are spread by touching contaminated surfaces and by direct human contact. Employers should post signs that tell workers, visitors and clients the steps for proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette, OSHA advised.” The advice is to encourage people to be aware of this issue. You know how in restaurants there are signs that say all employees must wash their hands before returning to work? Well I would suggest everyone put that sign up in the restroom regardless of the type of business.
There are a lot of things you can do to help insure that your places of business do not have too severe impact as the result of employees with the flu. It is certain that you will have someone walk in your door with that infection, so what are you going to do?
Personally, I have gotten my shot and I will be washing my hands frequently.