Four ways to help employees avoid winter illness

winter flu

Last year 34 million working days were lost in the UK due to minor illnesses such as coughs and colds. It’s well known that colds are more common throughout winter, thanks to everything from seasonal gene changes to fluctuating temperatures. Indeed, one study found two-thirds of sick days take place over winter.

Of course, some winter illness is inevitable, but there are some things you can do as an employer to help protect your staff and keep them as healthy as possible over the coming months.

Encourage employees to stay home when ill
Nearly three quarters of those surveyed in the latest CIPD Absence Management Report say they have observed ‘presenteeism’, that is, people coming into work when they are unwell. While on the face of it this might seem admirable, it’s really anything but. Having an employee come into the office full of a cold could mean the difference between one employee off ill and a whole chunk of the workforce being taken down by a winter bug.

This is because colds are caused by viruses and so can easily spread from one person to another.

As anyone who has dragged themselves into work when they shouldn’t have knows, being at work when you’re unwell is no fun at all. Being preoccupied with nasal sprays and gargling salt water isn’t exactly conducive to getting work done, so it’s no surprise research has found that presenteeism can cut productivity by one-third.

If your workplace currently struggles with presenteeism you will need to undo this culture. Something as simple as an office wide email explaining your ‘stay at home if ill’ policy could go a long way towards rectifying this issue. You might also like to consider allowing staff who are infectious – but feel up to working – to work remotely from home. It’s important you make sure this isn’t conveyed in such a way that would make ill employees feel obliged to work though.

Promote a healthy lifestyle
Exercise and a healthy diet can really make a difference to staying healthy throughout winter. You can encourage staff to achieve this by ensuring they have the time for exercise, whether that’s by implementing strict finish times or integrating exercise into work by introducing a lunchtime walking group. For more tips see our article on helping employees fit exercise into the working day.

You could help nudge staff towards making healthier dietary choices by swapping out office biscuits for fresh fruit, or perhaps consider having an independent expert come in to discuss the benefits of diet and exercise. You could also organise employee health assessments which can help identify potential health risks early, as well as highlighting any actions they can take to stop health concerns becoming more serious. Find out more about Benenden’s Health Assessments for Business.

Practice good office hygiene
eighty per cent of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch, so hand-washing is incredibly important at reducing the number of germs spread between people. You could reiterate the importance of this, at this time of year, to your employees if they want to avoid getting ill.

Hand sanitiser can also help curb the spread of germs via touch. You might install hand sanitiser in your office toilets or provide staff with bottles to keep on their desks. You might also want to consider supplying boxes of tissues in case an employee starts sneezing at work. Used tissues must be disposed of as soon as possible though, so make sure there are plenty of bins around the office.

Lastly, make sure your workplace is cleaned regularly. This means both surfaces like desks and kitchen countertops, as well as often used but overlooked objects such as door handles and laptops.

Offer annual flu jabs
If your employees are concerned about getting the flu, the flu vaccine is the easiest way to ensure they avoid it. These can be arranged easily through Benenden, whether your company is an existing member of not. To find out more call us on 0800 414 8179 or click here to arrange a call back at a time that’s convenient for you.

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By offering employee the flu vaccine you are also helping to stop the spread of the virus. Many people with flu show no symptoms, meaning people who feel fit and healthy can unwittingly infect vulnerable patients. Vaccination is the best way to help stop this and therefore help ease pressures that a heavy flu outbreak would place on NHS services such as doctors’ surgeries and busy hospital wards.

This content originally appeared on Benenden’s workplace hub where employers can find a range of related articles to help with their health and wellbeing strategy.