By Laura Knowles
A huge number of days can be lost each year due to sickness absence, which has a large impact on productivity for many businesses.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic many businesses are relying heavily on things getting back to some kind of ‘normal’. But with the return of many face to face meetings and public travel after more than a year at home, could we be in for a harsh winter in terms of our immunity (or lack of) against bugs and other viruses such as the flu?
How can you help support your employees as the winter season approaches? We have made a short list which you may find useful in preparing for the winter months ahead.
‘Catch it, Kill it, Bin it’ has become well ingrained in us since the flu virus and COVID-19 became a part of our lives, however a gentle reminder about hygiene and how employees should stay at home if they feel unwell would be advantageous as the change of season approaches.
The health and safety of employees in the workplace has always been paramount, but now more so than ever with COVID safe spaces being at the top of the agenda for all businesses as we start to interact more in person. Ensure your health and safety measures are still up to scratch and being adhered to by everyone.
All employees should be provided with hand washing/sanitising facilities, and protective equipment where necessary. This will not only help reduce the risk of COVID transmission, but also other viruses such as flu and the common cold.
Keep those high traffic areas such as door handles and light switches clean where possible and ensure general housekeeping is kept to a high standard around the working environment. Encourage employees to keep their own workspaces clean and ensure shared kitchen spaces are well maintained.
Can windows be opened intermittently to encourage ventilation? Maybe relax the dress code to allow people to wrap up warm if you plan to do this!
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Plan workloads for the event of staff shortages and ensure deadlines are not too tight where possible.
Think about cross-training teams so that when employees are absent there is someone else who can pick up that workload.
Think about what work can be done from home if needed and ensure relevant equipment is available for people should they need to work from home.
Public transport is a breeding ground for bugs, especially in winter. Think about those employees who are using public transport, could some of their work be done from home to reduce their amount of travel?
Support and promote health and wellbeing
For some, the need to travel on public transport or work in close proximity to others is unavoidable, and for those employees it is even more important to promote health and wellbeing.
There are lots of initiatives that focus on keeping healthy, from diet and nutrition advice to exercise and mental health support. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to using an external provider, you can still encourage health and wellbeing, such as offering a longer lunch break for people to go on a team walk - you could make it a competition or even raise money for charity.
Providing free fruit is another easy way to promote healthy eating habits or offer discounts at local fitness establishments. Promote your cycle to work scheme if you have one, this also reduces the need for public transport.
By protecting your employees against flu, you can maintain an efficient workplace and by offering corporate flu jabs you could encourage more people to take up the offer of a vaccine.
Obviously deciding to have the flu vaccine is entirely down to personal choice and some people may not wish to take up the offer of a vaccine. However, making the information available to all employees about flu vaccines, allows them to make an informed choice.
Show some flexibility where you can. Encouraging people to work from home when they feel unwell (if their role allows it) is a good way to avoid people coming into work when they’re not feeling 100%. This is particularly important when you have employees who have underlying health issues that make them more vulnerable to viruses.
Sickness absence is unavoidable in the workplace, but hopefully some of our tips above could help to reduce the instances of absence within your business.
If you need any support with health and wellbeing initiatives, benefits information, or just general advice and support around sickness absence please get in touch with us here at Second Chapter.
About Laura Knowles
Laura is currently HR Business Partner at Second Chapter where she advises clients on a range of HR matters including performance management, disciplinary and grievance, attendance management, flexible working, and employee engagement. With a HR career spanning more than a decade, she has worked for A4E, Cambion Electronics, BresMed Health Solutions and Kirklees Council. Laura lives in Sheffield with her husband, two daughters and their two cats.