T’was the week before Christmas, when all through the office, not a creature was well-rested, not even a mouse. Year-end reports were filed by the chimney with care, in hopes that holiday vacation soon would be there. The employees were nestled all snug in their cubicles, while visions of 40-hour work weeks danced in their heads.
All month long, your team likely has been putting in extra hours to prep for holiday vacations and cover for co-workers out sick, while also juggling an increase in holiday-related responsibilities at home. Working more both at the office and at home can prevent your team members from getting adequate sleep and make their immune systems more vulnerable to illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 million U.S. employees miss work each year because of the flu, resulting in an estimated $7 billion worth of sick days and lost productivity. National Hand Washing Awareness Week falls in December for a reason: This reminder is meant to help prevent and slow the spread of illness.
And there’s no doubt flu season is here. The CDC says influenza activity in the U.S. has been elevated for several weeks now, and it’s still on the rise. But that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance to combat the flu’s impact on your team. In fact, December is just the beginning of flu season, which peaks from December to February, according to the CDC.
If you’re wondering what you can do now to stop the flu from ruling the roost at your business, you’ve come to the right place. I connected with a few business leaders to see how they fend off decreased productivity and prevent the flu from taking down their team.
1. Jason Barbour, Owner and President, Metabolic Meals
Barbour says Metabolic Meals takes a proactive approach to preventing the spread of illness at the office. To maintain air quality, the company uses air purifiers throughout the building and cleans the air ducts regularly. It also works with a third-party contractor that sanitizes high-traffic areas of the office—such as restrooms, meeting rooms and break rooms—each night. In addition to keeping the facility clean, Barbour says on-site opportunities that encourage wellness make a big impact.
Barbour’s team utilizes the company’s Corporate Healthy Meal Program, which allows employees to order lunches, snacks and even ready-to-eat dinners for their families. All of these efforts to promote a healthier workforce have produced results. Barbour’s team does still see a drop in productivity during flu season, but not by much. The company’s absenteeism changes less than 5% during winter months. “Our focus on preventative personal health as a company makes a huge difference both in productivity and culture,” Barbour says. “Placing a focus towards on-site wellness initiatives has not only improved our bottom line, it’s also been great for talent acquisition. People want to work for companies who invest in their well-being.”
2. Charles Koh, Cofounder and CMO, Koh Ventures
Charles Koh has seen a dip in productivity during flu season. When employees get sick, work days are missed and performance slows. “If you’re feeling sick, we want you to go home and rest and get better. A faster recovery and coming back 100% is way more effective than being sluggish throughout the day, as your productivity and focus will not be there,” he explains. It’s crucial to remind your employees to stay home when they’re under the weather. This may seem like a no-brainer, but an Office Pulse study found that 70% of white-collar employees still go to work when they’re ill.
Koh says he prioritizes the health of his team to prevent illness from spreading throughout the office. But even the best efforts can’t completely prevent employees from getting sick. Koh says his team gets ahead of the problem by creating action plans for potential days missed. “This gives visibility to other people on the team and a way for others to pick up urgent deadlines if needed,” he says. “Having team members cover for one another is the best solution and helps promote a team mentality on projects.”
3. Dr. Cheri McDonald, LMFT Trauma Expert and Life Mastery Coach
Cheri McDonald has certainly noticed the connection between the flu and lowered productivity. To combat this, she developed a plan that allows for dips in productivity throughout the year. “Work budget, revenue and losses are projected with buffers for loss of productivity already in place,” she explains. “This built-in buffer assures there is minimal if any loss of actual productivity during flu season.”
McDonald takes additional proactive steps to prevent illness from taking over her team. She focuses on promoting work-life balance by offering a flexible work schedule, space for meditation and self-care breaks, teleconferencing options for clients and clinicians and education on self-care. As a hypnotherapist, McDonald believes that the way people think, manage emotions and care for their bodies all contribute to the body becoming vulnerable to physical illnesses and loss of stamina. “As we take on the responsibility of honoring all of us—mind, body and spirit,” McDonald says, “we can have greater success in rising above and beyond the physical threats of illnesses.”
Flu season is upon us, and it will stick around for the next couple of months. But it’s never too late to implement steps to slow the spread of illness in your office and prepare for drops in productivity when people are sick. These business leaders offer different approaches to doing just that. The key is to craft a plan that’s right for your business and your team. Glean tips from these three leaders and develop your own plan to fight the flu.