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October 15, 2014 / Molly Moseley

10 tips for keeping your office healthy this flu season

Cold and flu season is officially here, and as concerns rise about the potential spread of Ebola, Enterovirus 68 and other illnesses, keeping the workplace healthy is a top priority.

“According to the CDC, nearly 111 million workdays are lost because of seasonal influenza, costing employers approximately $7 billion annually in sick days and lost productivity,” says Alan Kohll, CEO of TotalWellness, a corporate health and wellness solutions provider.

It’s inevitable that employees will be impacted by cold, flu and other ailments, but there is a lot businesses can do to minimize the effects of sickness and keep employees healthy, happy and productive.

“The number one thing employers can do to keep their workplace influenza free is to encourage employees to get vaccinated against influenza,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease physician. “This is the chief means of preventing influenza in any setting.”

Here are 10 steps for keeping employees healthy and minimizing the spread of illness during cold and flu season:

1. Educate employees
Many employees confuse the flu with other illnesses. Provide educational materials about symptoms and how viruses and germs are spread. Additionally, provide information about the safety, effectiveness and importance of getting the flu shot.

2. Host a clinic
Holding a vaccination clinic onsite during office hours is a great way to give employees access to the flu shot so they don’t have to get it on their own time.

3. Encourage frequent hand washing
Post proper hand-washing steps by all sinks, and make sure soap and towels are always readily available.

4. Provide hand sanitizer
Consider supplying bottles of hand sanitizer for each employee’s desk. This makes it easy for each person to sanitize their hands throughout the day.

5. Clean desks frequently
On average, desks have 21,000 germs per square inch – 400 times more than a toilet. Encourage employees to wipe down their desk each day with disposable disinfecting wipes.

6. Cough the right way
Most adults grew up thinking you should cough into your hands. Today, we know you should cough into your elbow to prevent the spread of germs. Make sure employees young and old understand this.

7. Revisit PTO and sick leave policies
Remind people the importance of staying home sick while ill, and put a contingency plan in place for covering while they are gone. Consider making telecommuting an option for sick employees so they can work from home.

8. Lead by example
Employees will follow management’s lead. If the boss comes in while ill, they will, too. Be sure to lead by example and stay home if you’re sick; employees will be more likely to do the same.

9. Disseminate health insurance information
Does the company health plan cover the flu shot? Is there a nurse hotline employees can call with questions when they feel ill? Make sure employees know this important information at the start of cold and flu season.

10. Sanitize common spaces
Common spaces like the office kitchen, break rooms and meeting areas are where people congregate and therefore spread germs. Sanitize common spaces frequently by having the cleaning crew take additional steps this time of year.

What steps are you taking to encourage healthy habits this flu season?