Are you ready for cold and flu season?

A flu virus

Sure, most of us won’t have to worry about runny noses, sore throats and cough syrup for another couple of months. But if you’re a wellness coordinator or program manager, now is a good time to plan for cold and flu season, which begins in the fall and lasts through the winter.

The CDC offers loads of free resources for businesses. Not sure where to begin? Here are five tips for helping employees prevent the season cold and flu. What have been your most successful strategies?

1. Promote hand-washing

It’s a big one, and we can’t stress it enough. Post signs in the bathroom, by the sink or in the stalls. Even if you have signs in the bathroom already, you want to keep the message fresh. Make them funny. Clever. Colorful. And change them every couple of weeks.

Put reminder cards in mailboxes. Send polite “wash your hands!” reminder text messages or a weekly email. And don’t be afraid to be a little pesky!

Help employees remember hand-washing basics: hot water, soap, scrubbing for 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing “Happy birthday”), a thorough drying (wet hands will only attract more bacteria).

And make sure bathrooms and sink stations have a hands-free trash receptacle, and that it is regularly emptied. Nothing is uckier than used paper towel and tissues all over the bathroom floor.

2. Be pro-active about cleanliness

Hand-washing alone does not a cold-and-flu-free workplace make. Germs live everywhere in an office environment: on phones and phone headsets, keyboards, desks, office kitchens, eating areas and conference tables.

Encourage employees to clean their workspace every day, see to it that other communal areas are regularly cleaned, and try to …

3. Make everything easier

Do employees know where to find disinfectant wipes, paper towels and cleaning supplies? Is there plenty of hand soap and clean towels or a hand drier at the sink? Does everyone have tissues and a place to throw them away immediately?

Consider handing out cold and flu prevention kits: small bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, travel-sized tissue packs, fever-reducing acetaminophen, and an educational brochure about cold and flu season.

4. Encourage flu shots

From the 2010-2011 flu shot campaign by CDC. Flyer available here.

If you can hold an on-site flu shot clinic, offering the flu vaccine at a reduced rate or for free, you absolutely should. Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer worksite flu shot clinics. You can also call your state health department. If a flu-shot clinic is a go, here’s a one-page checklist to help you make sure you have your ducks in a row.

If an onsite flu shot clinic is not an option for your business, promote locally-available flu shots with the help of a flu shot finder like this one by Google (or install it as a widget on your website — you can see what it looks like on our own sidebar, to your left).

5. Prevent the spread

People are going to get sick with a cold or flu this cold and flu season — that’s just life. But you can prevent the spread at your workplace by making sure sick people don’t come to work.

Encourage employees to take a sick day or work from home if they have flu-like symptoms.

When should employees stay home?

  • If they have a fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • If they are showing signs of a fever: chills, sweating, feeling flushed, or skin that is warm to touch

Employees may also need to stay home to take care of a sick child or family member. Prepare for flu season absences now:

  • Update your flex-time policy
  • Make sure your staff is cross-trained in case of an absent teammate
  • Install/update software your telecommuters might need, like video-conferencing solutions and tools that allow people to remotely access their workplace computers

Last but not least, set an example and send people home if you know they are sick. The CDC even recommends implementing a “checkpoint” during severe cold and flu outbreaks: stationing someone at the door as employees arrive and quizzing them on any symptoms they may be experiencing.

Whether or not that’s a bridge too far is for you to decide, but one thing’s for sure: no matter how short-staffed you are or what kind of deadline crunch your team is under, having someone with the flu in the workplace will only make things worse in the long run.

What creative strategies have you tried for cold and flu season in the past? What will you try this year?


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