It’s that time of year again — the sound of coughing and sneezing can be heard throughout many businesses with cold and flu season in full swing. As a business owner, the burden falls to you to keep productivity high, despite your employees’ need for sick days.
Sick leave is a common challenge, especially for small business owners, with fewer staff you are hit hardest when someone needs to take time away to heal. This can cause projects to fall behind schedule and add stress for other workers, who must make up for lost productivity. And because some people may need to work overtime to make up for the time lost, cold season may also add to your overtime bills.
A recent study found that small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) pay an average annual cost of almost $20,000 each, with NSW businesses losing the most at an average loss of $26,500, in productivity a year due to sick leave.
Before you assume there’s nothing you can do, there are some simple practices that can be implemented to help alleviate the impact of seasonal illness on your business and manage your employees more effectively.
5 ways to keep employees productive during cold and flu season
Offer a flu jab
If your business offers health insurance or has the capacity to cover flu vaccines, it’s a good perk to offer employees. Since many people don’t want to make a special trip to the doctor’s, see if you can arrange a medical service or mobile vaccination clinic to visit your workplace. If you’re a small business you may be able to band with other local businesses to get this service or piggyback on a bigger company in your office building that is hosting flu vaccinations. It’s a small price to pay if it means saving you hours of productivity in the long-term.
Encourage sick employees to stay home
Employees need to feel that they are supported (and won’t be penalised) if they take some time off to get well. The benefits of a sick employee coming in to handle their work are far outweighed by the risks that the person will infect other staff members (or your customers!).
The Victorian Government’s Better Health website recommends people with flu-like symptoms stay home for 3 to 5 days from when the symptoms first appear. And studies show that staying home just one or two days when sick can reduces the chance of passing on the flu by 25 to 40 percent. If employees are worried that they’ll get overloaded with work when they return, offer to let them work from home.
Keep workplaces clean
Colds and flus spread in winter because people are more likely to spend time inside in an enclosed environment. Keep your work environment as germ-free as you can by having disinfectant sprays/wipes on hand and regularly clean door handles, shared surfaces and anything else that people touch throughout day.
It’s also a good idea to have lots of tissues and hand sanitizer on hand. If your staff shares tech tools like tablet computers, handheld barcode scanners, desktop computers, cash registers or headsets, make sure you have the appropriate cleaning equipment on hand to disinfect those surfaces between uses.
Encourage healthy habits
Ensure that your employees are reminded to wash their hands thoroughly with soap after taking a break or going to the bathroom. It’s also useful to post signs around the office (where feasible) reminding employees to regularly clean equipment that is shared.
Ensure your schedules are planned in advance
Finally, ensure that your staff know when they’re rostered to work well in advance, and that you have backup employees ready to jump in if your workplace is suddenly hit with an outbreak. Smarter employee management and forward-planning can be valuable asset in a crisis.
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