Wider World of Business

With cases of the flu reaching epidemic levels, it is critical businesses maintain a healthy work environment. A business can be severely affected by people coming to work when they're sick.

Sickness can interrupt productivity by creating a distraction and causing both the infected employee and co-workers to focus on the illness instead of their jobs, as well as affect how outsiders, such as clients and customers, view the stability of the company, Capelli-Schellpfeffer says.“We know illness can spread from person to person causing entire work groups to be affected,” says Dr. Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, medical director of Loyola Univ. Health System Occupational Health Services. “But less obvious is how job performance, organization, productivity, creativity and financial stability can all be affected.”

She advises businesses to encourage employees who are sick to use their sick time, because just being in a room and breathing when a person is sick can spread the illness.

“If you’re sick you shouldn't be in the workplace,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer says. “It interrupts business and puts others at risk of infection.”

To protect businesses from a flu outbreak, Capelli-Schellpfeffer offers the following tips:

  • Communicate sick attendance policy: Make sure employees are aware of the company’s attendance policy and identify a point person for questions. Give examples to illustrate when employees should stay home due to sickness.
  • Prepare for unexpected absences: It’s possible that schools and day cares could close due to illness, forcing parents to leave work to care for their children. Sick employees also should be sent home to avoid spreading the infection. Be sure the company has a plan in place to meet staffing needs in such cases.
  • Good housekeeping: Regular surface cleaning minimizes germ exposure. Eliminate clutter on counters, especially around sinks and food preparation areas, to ease the job of wiping down these often germ-filled areas and promote quick drying.
  • Company’s culture on health: Install a prevention program that offers annual flu shots, informs employees about ways to stay healthy and what to do to avoid infectious illness. Also, find prominent places to hang posters that remind people to wash their hands before meals, after sneezing or coughing, and when moving between tasks.

“While news cycles and the public’s attention span about the flu rises and wanes, the flu is not going away,” Capelli-Schellpfeffer says. “Though there is a cost involved in promoting wellness, it is small in comparison to the pricey hit companies take when their work force is impaired by illness.”