Four simple ways to stop the spread of office germs

Sick and tired of paying staff to work when they’re sick and tired? Here’s how to make the office a healthy environment and slash absenteeism

Nearly 90% of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick – something offices should be cautious of during flu season. In the past December, the average percentage of American adults with the flu on any given day was 2.8%, and that number increased to 8.9% for those with a cold, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So what can HR do to increase productivity and avoid the spread of germs in the winter months?

Encourage telecommuting According to CareerBuilder, 20% of workers in the past year worked from home while they were ill. That small figure means that many companies are missing out on the productivity that sick workers could provide if they arranged to telecommute on sick days. This will encourage contagious workers who are stingy with their paid time off not to come into the office.

Provide sanitation stations Just having hand sanitizer available for employees to use can slash the germs floating about the office. For added protection, have the cleaning team sanitize all desks, phones and doors when flu season begins to kick in. A University of Arizona study found that providing offices with disinfecting wipes and sanitizer before lunch and after meetings reduced risk of infection from 90% to 10% for cold, flu and stomach viruses. "Most people think it's coughing and sneezing that spreads germs, but the number of objects you touch is incredible, especially in this push-button generation. We push more buttons than any other generation in history,” said UA professor Charles Gerba, co-principal investigator on the study.

Get support of senior management It’s much easier to take HR messages seriously when upper management is being consistent with the vision. This is a key strategy for PMSI, which was listed among America’s top 100 healthiest employers for 2014. PMSI senior vice president of human resources, Betsy Irizarry, said it was easy to encourage employees to take the health of their office seriously because the company made it a wider priority with compulsory physical exercise activities and financial commitments to support health. “The organization really has to be committed to showing employees that they’re committed to their health. You cannot expect people to follow the lead of not coming to work sick when you have management not supporting that environment,” she said.

Bring medical services in-house Even if you can’t afford an on-site clinic, a yearly flu vaccination provided in the office is a simple way to reduce absenteeism when winter comes around. Irizarry noted that providing flu shots assisted employees who were unable to take the time off work to arrange appointments at external clinics.

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