The flu season typically peaks in January and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and workers in some jobs are more vulnerable than others because of a higher exposure to germs, a more hectic travel schedule or more stress, reports Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of the office supplier.
Making the list of those most at risk:
• Retail-store employees, through their frequent contact with the public and handling of cash and credit cards.
• Doctors and nurses, through their daily interaction with unhealthy people.
• Teachers, through their contact with children and the classroom.
• Sanitation workers, because of their daily contact with waste.
• Mortuary employees, because they interact with people who may have been around ill and hospitalized family members.
• Flight attendants, because they spend hours in enclosed spaces with fliers, some of whom are sick.
• Bank employees and other staffers who handle currency.
• IT support/computer-repair personnel, through their contact with technology devices used frequently by others.
• Business executives, who often have heavy travel schedules and whose long hours cut into their sleep schedule.
• Air traffic controllers, whose highly stressful job makes them vulnerable to illness.
Working while sick
Forty-seven percent of Americans who have the flu stay home less than two days even while acknowledging that three days is appropriate, according to an August 2013 poll on workplace hygiene and knowledge of the flu that Staples Advantage conducted with 316 office workers and 137 facility managers.
Not wanting to fall behind in their work was the main reason most respondents (45%) gave for returning to work early when they were sick, according to the poll. However, productivity slips when a worker is under the weather.
“Flu season poses a big problem for businesses; each year it causes an estimated 70 million missed workdays and billions in lost office productivity,” said Lisa Hamblet, vice president for facility solutions at Staples Advantage, in a news release. “It’s critical that both employees and employers take notice and promote healthier habits.”
Workplace strategies that organizations can use include those as simple as giving employees individual hand sanitizers or placing sanitizers in common areas; encouraging ill workers to stay home, and having supervisors model that behavior; and discouraging desktop dining. Fifty-seven percent of people surveyed know that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for up to three days; yet, 66% clean their desk once a week or less. The good news: That’s up from the 51% in 2012 who said they wipe down their work area weekly or less often.
Other flu-prevention tactics employers could consider include making free or low-cost onsite vaccinations available, updating restrooms to include touch-free features, providing paid sick leave, and offering -- and encouraging -- telecommuting when appropriate.
© 2013, Society for Human Resource Management
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