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4 Tips to Fight the Flu at Work



The flu season is bound to disrupt your workplace. Find out how to keep your employees healthy and germs at bay.

By Eric J. Berman, DO, MS, CHIE, Executive Medical Director, Clinical Innovation & Medical Policy

When it comes to dealing with a flu outbreak at work, the bottom line isn’t pretty. Sick co-workers, increased absences and lost productivity are just the beginning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. workers miss more than 17 million workdays each year as they take time off to recover. The result? An estimated $4.6 billion in direct medical costs, like hospitalizations and doctor’s visits, plus another $7 billion a year in lost productivity.

With the flu season is in full swing – and widespread across New Jersey – here are four ways to help prevent the virus from spreading in the workplace.

1. Promote vaccinations. The best way to stop the flu is by not letting it start. The flu vaccine works very well, although it’s not 100% effective. But for those who do get sick even if they’re vaccinated, the illness can be less severe and not last as long.

Hold an on-site flu vaccine clinic, if possible, because employees are more likely to get a flu shot if it’s convenient. The best time to host a clinic is in September or October – at the start of the flu season – because it takes about two weeks for people to build immunity to the virus.

Otherwise, let your employees know that their Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey medical benefits include a no-cost flu shot. They can receive one at their primary care physician or one of these convenient retail locations. It’s never too late to get a flu shot as the flu season extends well into the spring.

2. Offer flexible work arrangements. Sick employees may try to tough it out by coming into work – but employers should discourage this practice. The CDC recommends anyone with flu-like symptoms and a temperature over 100 degrees stay home for at least 24 hours to reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others. Encourage sick employees to stay home, rest and get better. If needed, allow your employees to work from home instead.

3. Encourage healthy habits. For employees who do come to work during cold and flu season, there are preventive measures everyone can take to stop the spread of germs:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water or use a hand sanitizer
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth – as the flu virus is easy to pick up from hard surfaces

4. Clean up. Be proactive in keeping your workplace as germ-free as possible. Place hand sanitizers around the office, distribute disinfectant wipes for employees to scrub down their desk and computer keyboards, and routinely clean all common area surfaces, such as conference rooms, water fountain handles and office kitchens.

The height of flu season usually peaks in February, but many New Jersey communities are already reporting “high” flu activity. Now is the time to prepare your workplace for any disruptions. And one more thing: follow your own advice. If you’re feeling a fever and cough coming on, stay home and set a good example for your co-workers.