Creating a healthy workplace

by External,Human Capital19 Aug 2013

Think 'man-flu' is confined to the male population? Think again - 47% of full-time employees will take a day off if they get a cold, with women 10% more likely to stay at home than men. Dr Georgia Karabatsos outlines what can be done.

Our recent Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line research disproves the myth men exaggerate common cold symptoms and lean on their partners with a dose of ‘man flu’. In fact, 83% of men say they aren’t badly affected by colds and less than one in ten (7%) expect to be looked after.

Medibank call data* shows women are twice as likely to call to discuss symptoms and health advice than men.

While nearly half of women (47%) tell their loved ones when they feel under the weather, men are more likely to keep it a secret, shunning the cliché they complain unnecessarily. Only 27% of Australian men tell their partner if they have a cold and even less (9%) tell friends. However, this could also raise concerns in the workforce, as many employees choose to remain silent rather than speak up about their health.

Arguably the hardened Aussie male stereotype has led to men being unfairly silenced about important health matters. The common cold and ‘man flu’ are often joked about, but for some men this can lead to them feeling unable to discuss their health. In the workplace, the same can also be said for women. So, while it’s not necessary to seek advice for every cold or flu, it’s essential all employees feel able to share important health information.

It is vital to get the balance right; an environment must be created in which employees feel able to bring up the topic of ill health if it is going to affect their work life, without encouraging excess absenteeism. Confidentiality is crucial and as a HR manager, it is important key employees are aware of the appropriate procedures to take in the event of illness. They must also be allowed time off where necessary without being made to feel it may compromise their job.

A healthy workplace means more than just warding off colds and flu. It is important for employers to take into consideration the physical, emotional and mental health of employees. While HR managers are not expected to be a health expert when it comes to an employees health, it is still important they know when and how to respond to employee concerns.

On a day to day level, team members taking time off for colds and flu can be a tough time for businesses, especially in winter months. There are a number of steps you can take to help safeguard the health of employees such as: 

  • Set up a flu shot clinic in the office – by making it easy for employees to receive the vaccination, a larger proportion of the workforce will be protected against the virus
  • Make healthy food convenient – make sure nutritional choices are made available and consider providing fresh fruit. Fresh fruit is more effective than vitamins or supplements at building a healthy immune system.
  • Ensure the building is properly ventilated – stale air circulating is a highway for germs
  • Encourage a regular exercise– perhaps look at offering subsided gym membership or facilitating work sports club
  • Maintain accurate record keeping – maintaining records of employer injuries and workplace illness for future reference. This makes it easier to identify problems faster. 
  • Establishing administrative procedures –encourage employees to report unsafe practices to improve the workplace environment


Research conducted by Galaxy Research for the Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line on 19-24 April 2013 on a sample of 1,061 Australians across the country.

*Call data from Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line. As part of Mi Health, members with Medibank hospital cover can call a Medibank nurse with any health questions, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Medibank nurses complement the care given by GPs and other health professionals so consumers can trust they'll deliver sound advice, and answer most questions. If Medibank nurses think a GP should be seen, they can use their clinical knowledge to call the preferred GP clinic, explain the condition to assist getting you an appointment.