9 Tips to Help Prevent Cold and Flu in the Workplace

Angela Kambouris

All employers dread the cold and flu season. Germs, bugs, and illnesses can create chaos in the workplace if they are not kept in check. The financial impact of cold and flu in the workplace is astronomical. The cost of lost productivity is estimated to be more than $9 billion. The bottom line: Cold and flu season affects every business. 

No one likes being sick, let alone being too ill to go to work. Despite being unwell, many people tend to soldier on, convincing themselves that it’s better to make an appearance instead of not turning up at all.

There are many ways to prevent disease and the spread of germs around your office and co-workers. Germ prevention mustn’t be enacted once you are feeling under the weather. There are steps you can take now and during the cold and flu season to protect the health of your employees and help prevent the spread of germs in the process. 

Here are 9 cold and flu prevention tips to help minimize the spreading of germs and sickness in the workplace:

1. Maintain a Clean and Hygienic Workplace

Irrespective of the season, your workplace must be cleaned thoroughly and frequently to reduce bacteria build-up. Desks, copiers, cubicles, and break areas are a hot spot for germs to fester and multiply. Attention must be paid to cleaning shared surfaces such as public workstations, desks, keyboards, door handles, and phones. High traffic areas are excellent breeding grounds for bacteria and can increase the likelihood of spreading germs across the workforce.

CBS News reported that if a virus is present on a shared surface such as a desk or door handle, it can spread to between 40% to 60% of the workforce within two to four hours. By wiping down shared surfaces with disinfectant wipes alongside practicing good hygiene, workers can minimize the risk significantly. 

Ideally shared surfaces and equipment in the workplace must be cleaned regularly to ensure cold and flu viruses are removed. The following surfaces and objects must be cleaned consistently:

  • Doorknobs and handles
  • Buttons on photocopiers or microwaves
  • Keyboards before you use another person’s keyboard
  • Telephone buttons and handles before using another’s
  • Handles of kitchen equipment such as coffee pots and microwaves
  • Benches and counters
  • Books, laptops, mobile phones or pieces of technology which are shared

2. Hygiene Etiquette

All human beings must ensure they are aware and engage in hygiene procedures that minimize the risk of spreading germs, including the cold and flu. Hygiene tips in the workplace consist of:

  • Regular hand washing and hand sanitizing must be embraced wherever possible and washing your hands before you touch your face reduces cold and flu transmission. 
  • Employees must use clean tissues when having sneezed and then bin it straight away. 
  • Before you use your coffee cup or refill your water bottle, make sure to rinse them in hot soapy water daily. If germs are lurking, this will assist in getting rid of them. 
  • Companies can put up signs and engage in regular conversations with staff groups to ensure correct procedures and ensure the office is stocked with supplies of tissues, disinfectant wipes and pedal bins that don’t require to be touched by hand.
  • Workplaces can automate educational materials encouraging respiratory etiquette by providing education and reminders about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues and washing hands with running water and soap or alcohol-based hand rubs.

3. Promotion of Cold and Flu Vaccinations

Many workplaces offer flu vaccination to ensure their employees are protected and safeguarded against the flu. This can be an essential way to educate your team about the signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with the flu alongside providing them with preventative measures.

Vaccination will never cover every virus strain; they do offer protection against the most common strains and can reduce the chances of employees contracting cold and flu viruses. The Centre For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends every person 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. Workplaces can consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic at their office to provide resources to employees about how to access flu vaccines in the community. There is also a free online service to search for vaccines in your area. 

Companies can invest in starting a free workplace vaccination program. Your team can get free annual flu protection, save money and time by not having to arrange a doctor’s visit or line up to receive a vaccination at a health clinic; a company benefits by building a healthier workforce. 

4. Stay at Home

Once you have begun to have cold and flu symptoms, staying at home is wise and an important measure to reduce the likelihood of sharing your germs with co-workers. Rest and recuperation are vital for your recovery and reduce the possibility of sharing your germs with members of your workplace. If you begin to feel symptoms at work, then best make your way home as early as possible. 

Workplaces can put up signs to remind employees and visitors to remain at home when infected and practice excellent hygiene to prevent spreading infections at work. Posters can be placed strategically around the workplace such as at entrances, in lifts and stairwells. Signs can be informative tools that can remind people before entering the workplace to perform hygienic practices such as washing hands when they arrive. Another option may be to provide factsheets about how the risk of infection can be transmitted and how transmission can be prevented.

5. Staying Healthy to Help Prevent Getting Sick

If you want to reduce the risk of infection, stay healthy. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating nutritious food, engaging in movement regularly and prioritizing sleep, you are off to a great start in preventing illness. 

Staying fit and healthy keeps our immune system in great shape to stave off flu, colds and other germs. A company can promote the importance of having a balanced diet and encourage employees to have plenty of Vitamin C to help boost immune systems in the workplace. Another alternative is leaving bowls of fresh fruit in the office to encourage employees to eat fruit regularly throughout the day. 

6. Aromatherapy in the Workplace

The American Journal Of Essential Oils and Natural Oils reported that certain essential oils contain antiviral properties. By inhaling certain oil vapors can deactivate influenza viruses and lower numbers in confined spaces. Oils such as Eucalyptus, Bergamot and Tea tree oils can prevent and alleviate flu symptoms within a short time. One company, DoTerra, sources, tests, manufactures and distributes essential oils. Their oils have been known to cleanse and purify the air, support individuals to maintain a healthy respiratory system and clear breathing. The beauty of essential oils is that you are bringing nature’s benefits directly into your workspace. 

7. Enforce a Stay-At-Home Policy

Companies must invest and implement a stay-home policy as a way to prevent and minimize cold and flu outbreaks. Creating a culture that supports employees, without fear of retribution, that no one should come to work with a fever or bad cough. Managers must lead by example and set the tone of the new standard within the workplace.

8. Hire a Professional Cleaning Service

Commercial cleaning companies offer vital services and essential advantages to companies. Hiring a reputable cleaning company can help combat flu and cold within the workplace with a variety of industry-certified techniques such as disinfecting all surfaces, common areas, floors, and carpets, sanitizing the entire building and air duct cleaning services. If you already have a professional cleaning company that cleans your office, consider having them clean your office more often during cold and flu seasons.

9. Be Prepared for Worst Case-Scenario

Workplace illness can have a profound impact on business. At times, it can be as damaging as a natural disaster. The CDC reports that seasonal flu usually peaks between December and February; however, Pandemic flu rarely happens. Still, when it does, it can create a significant impact on the general public, such as travel restrictions, school, and businesses. A company can create a pandemic preparedness checklist in case a substantial number of employees call in sick. Companies must think about how they can take care of their people and continue to run their business, whether it be working from home or changing shifts. 

Encourage Wellness and Promote Healthy Habits Throughout the Year

Coping with a cold and flu season isn’t easy. By taking proactive steps, your company can prepare and prevent potential impacts to the business and their people. Your company leaders can also help to promote wellness by supporting employees and promoting healthy habits throughout the year. 

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