Source: Clarissa Windham-Bradstock

Before the sun even set on summer, Flu season 2019–2020 reared its ugly head early with a confirmed flu-related death in California in early September. Although the normal flu season runs from October until about May, the stage is already set for a longer, and potentially bad, flu season.

President Trump’s recent executive order on the flu tasks the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with improving the quality, production and access to the flu vaccine in order to increase Americans’ protection and preparedness in dealing with the flu and a potential pandemic in the future. In other words, from neighborhood schools to the White House, people are talking about the flu.

Whether a company manufactures gadgets, analyzes data or provides goods or services, every workplace in the U.S. should be actively engaged in an internal marketing campaign to their employees. The call to action? Get your flu shot!

Last year, more than 40% of adults in America did not intend to get a flu shot, which leaves workplaces across the country vulnerable to fast-spreading and costly flu outbreaks.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the flu causes employees to miss 17 million workdays per year, at a productivity cost of $7 billion a year. Supporting employees and companies with a flu plan that lessens the risk of exposure benefits everyone. As a company committed to helping people manage their health, we must practice what we preach. Here are some pillars we’ve found help build a sound flu prevention program.

Educate and Inform

In company communications, both digital and within physical buildings, make sure to share important information about the flu, its symptoms and what to do if employees think they have the flu. A colorful infographic posted near restrooms and water coolers can help get the point across. Also be sure to share common flu season workplace etiquette tips, such as the proper way to cough and sneeze, frequent hand washing and desk sanitizing, etc. to cut down on the spread of germs. Don’t assume people will practice these things — spell them out.

Promote Vaccines

Offer employees all the information they need to feel knowledgeable and comfortable about this year’s flu vaccine, how it works and why the CDC is calling for everyone age six months or older to be vaccinated. Getting a flu vaccine remains the single best way to protect against getting the flu. Share information on available community resources that provide vaccines, and even consider giving employees time off work to go get their shots. If something is going to spread in your office, make sure it’s accurate information on flu vaccines.

Host a Vaccination Clinic

There are a variety of reasons people choose not to get vaccinated, including cost and convenience. One way to help promote flu shots among workers is to provide them at no or low cost — and even host a vaccination clinic at the workplace.

A flu clinic committee, including any health and wellness or workplace safety employees, should be created to help plan the event, which may include bringing in an independent lab company or pharmacy to administer the vaccines. Be sure to use the CDC’s best-practices checklist for hosting a vaccination clinic that addresses important topics like proper temperature and storage of vaccines and good record keeping. Promote the clinic time and location across all communication platforms, and to maximize participation, schedule it for a time when the most employees are available, and allow them to get their vaccination as part of the workday.

Consider offering an incentive to the department with the highest percentage of participation. If you really want to score points with employees, add an extra layer of protection, and offer to vaccinate employees’ families as well.

Provide Clear Guidelines On How The Flu Will be Handled At Work

One reason people come to work sick, especially hourly or contract workers, is that they can’t afford to take a hit in their pay or they feel like they are the only ones who can get time-sensitive work done. But it may well be worth a company’s money to offer more flexible paid leave during flu season to keep people who are sick home and away from others. This is also a good time to consider offering alternative work schedules, working from home to care for sick family members or cross-training employees to be able to cover for sick co-workers who should not be in the office. Companies should be very clear in stating to employees what they expect — for sick employees to stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours — and what flexibility they are willing to offer to protect employees and still manage a productive workflow.

Not only will a well-defined workplace flu plan protect employees and save companies money, but it will also improve morale across the board to know that employees’ health is a top priority.