Quick tips to keep your office running smoothly during flu season.

Flu season. The dreaded respiratory virus that affects anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually in the U.S. lives longer indoors and therefore spreads throughout the office quicker between October and May – or high flu season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 111 million work days are lost annually to the flu, costing employers $7 billion a year in sick days and worker productivity. The flu costs businesses $10.4 billion dollars each year in direct costs as well, including hospitalizations, outpatient visits, medications and more. This can quickly add up to a major expense for employers. Typically flu season lasts 13 weeks, but last year’s “moderately severe” flu season stretched far beyond to the 20-week mark.

While last year’s vaccine wasn’t as effective as it has been in previous years (last year you were only 19% less likely to get the virus if you had the vaccine), it is still the most common and recommended form of prevention. This year, the CDC made two new changes to the vaccine and is hopeful it will have more of an impact on prevention. In a typical year, as many as 60% of those who get the vaccine are able to avoid the virus.

Plan for a flu-based business continuity event

What happens if we experience another flu season like last year? Or what if it’s even worse and employers find themselves struggling to maintain business as usual? 

“Last year’s Ebola scare brought the idea of an epidemic or pandemic to the forefront for many businesses, and yet business owners need to know that an outbreak of the flu is much more likely,” warns Hart Brown, CORP, CBCP, LPQ, Vice President, Practice Leader, organizational resilience, HUB International Limited. “Does your business have a continuity plan should there be an outbreak of the flu at your office?”

Although every business will have its own target number of absent employees before declaring a disaster, each business should be aware of what that number is, what a shortage of staff would mean to daily operations, and plan for it ahead of time. 

Questions executives should ask include:

  • If your business would have a 40% to 60% loss of employees, could you keep it running?
  • If not, is it possible to shift operations to a different location or part of the world temporarily?
  • If the entire business is operating out of one location, how can you make it through an epidemic or pandemic?

With the answers to these questions, create a list of best practices for employees and a step-by-step preparedness plan to guide managers should a flu epidemic hit your office.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

The flu spreads either through close contact with an infected person (standing within six feet) or through contact with droplets of the virus itself, either by touching a phone, handle or desk that an infected person sneezed or coughed on. While we can’t control the virus, here are some steps an employer can take to maintain a healthy environment during the coming winter months:

  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick. Ask them to return to the office only after they are fever-free for 24 hours.
  • Keep frequently touched surfaces clean. Instruct facilities personnel to wipe surfaces down more often during flu season.
  • Minimize group meetings between October and May to reduce the potential for transmission. When group meetings are necessary, make sure they’re in a room that is properly ventilated.
  • Encourage good employee hygiene. Put a sign in the bathrooms that reminds employees to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before returning to work. Keep additional tissue boxes handy and in strategic locations where employees may be lingering, like the break room, lunch area or collaboration spaces.
  • Encourage your employees to get the flu shot. Offer the shot free at the office at the onset of flu season.
  • Consult “FluView”, put out by the CDC for every state in the U.S. each week during flu season. This valuable tool can help employers prepare for what’s coming. 

Flu-Based Business Continuity Planning 

Ask yourself:

  • What is the threshold for the number of absent employees that would cause a business interruption event?
  • What would a staff shortage mean to daily operations?
  • What business operations are most vulnerable to absenteeism?
  • What is the plan to proactively plan for large scale absenteeism?

Contact your local HUB representative for pandemic and epidemic planning and recovery best practices to encourage business continuity and organizational resilience.

All stats from the Centers for Disease Control