Influenza costs US Businesses about $30.4 billion dollars a year (2012-2013) with 230 million work days missed. Considering when cold and flu season peaks (October-February), year-end responsibilities at work along with personal obligations around the holidays can cause employees to wonder "How sick is too sick for work?"
While missing work has a cost to businesses, employees that do go into work sick contribute to a wider phenomenon referred to as either Negative Attendance or Presenteeism. These terms refer to how these employees not only expose other staff members to their illness, but perform below normal work standards in quality and efficiency while they are ill.
Presenteeism and Negative Attendance is more common in temporary employment, hourly positions, welfare and teaching services, and positions where no cross training has been done so no substitute would be available.
So what is a business owner to do?
Maintain a healthy work environment
- Provide supplies including tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes to keep commonly used spaces and surfaces clean.
- During cold and flu season, consider remote communications between staff such as email, chat sessions, and teleconferences to minimize face-to-face meeting time between employees and maximize communication.
- Encourage ill employees to stay home
- Create a culture of wellness including flu shot clinics and materials with tips to keep your staff well
- Check out the latest information available from trusted sources like the CDC
- Familiarize yourself with state and local pandemic plans
- Understand the possible pandemic impact on your business
Identify critical business functions
- What are your most critical day-to-day operations?
- What employees or positions are essential to operations?
- How long can you withstand an interruption to those critical functions? What would happen during 0-24 hours? 24-48 hours? 48-72 hours?
- Account for likely shifts in your product or service delivery times during the emergency
Update employee policies
- Develop policies for sick leave and absences so that ill employees will not be penalized for missed time
- Recognize that employees may need to stay home to care for family members
- Encourage your staff to stay home if they are feeling ill to reduce person-to-person contact
- Implement mandatory sick leave for employees who are suspected of being ill
- Recognize the emotional, mental, and physical needs of employees during a catastrophic health event
- Policies and practices that allow employees to work from home or to stagger shifts may be important as absenteeism rises.
- Ensure critical business functions can continue if key personnel are not available
- Consider that not only sick employees will stay home- children and relatives may also require attention of your staff
- Consider contingency plans if quarantine situations arise
- Understand that certain areas or departments may experience greater demand during these times
- Longer or Odd Hours may require additional staffing
- Consider adding retired employees to your contact list for backup staffing
Prepare to implement work from home strategy
- Encourage telecommuting and ensure that individuals have proper equipment and services for this option to be successful
- Consider the strain on the network caused by the additional traffic
- Ensure that data and network security precautions are in place for remote logins
- Plan for productivity decrease due to distractions at home
- Have on-demand tech assistance available. Workers may not be working 9-5, and they may need to break up work sessions over the day when working from home.
- Plan for employees who are unable to report due to sick family members to take advantage of this possibility
Diversify your supply chain
- Talk with key vendors and suppliers about their plans in the case of a pandemic
- Develop relationships with alternate vendors
- IF not alternative vendors are available, consider stockpiling critical supplies
- Educate employees and staff about the importance of supply chain preparedness and identify any gaps
- Insure what cannot be protected
Help your employees prepare
- Involve employees in developing your communication plan
- Schedule in-office flu shot clinics
- Prepare for “working from home” issues and challenges
- Address family preparedness using newsletters and distributed materials
- Share the plan with new hires as part of their orientation
- Provide supplies to maintain a healthy work environment