Handling presenteeism during flu season

How to ensure your employees are getting the rest and care they need

‘Tis the season to hear the sounds of coughing and sneezing over the walls of your cubicle.

This year’s flu virus has arrived and might be lingering around your office in the form of presenteeism, when employees work through their illness.

Here are some tips to ensure your employees are getting the rest and care they need, so that they can stay productive for the rest of the winter season.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is the act of attending work while sick, and can lead to an employee’s symptoms worsening due to the fact that they are not addressing their health issues.

Not only can presenteeism exacerbate an employee’s symptoms, it can lead to carelessness on the job, and the spread of illness to other employees. It can also eventually lead to symptoms of metabolic syndrome—seen in 20 to 25 percent of Canadians. According to a study led by Dr. Wayne Burton, medical director for American Express, employees with metabolic syndrome are more likely to have illness-related absence days, higher stress levels, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression or osteoporosis.

Keeping the workplace germ free

Start by providing your employees with hand sanitizer stations and encouraging them to keep common areas clean. Commonly trafficked areas, such as keypads, or kitchen counters should be sanitized every day so as to not spread illness. You can also host on-site flu shot clinics, or even simply provide your employees with the right information on why they should be seeking out their own vaccinations.

Lead with healthy examples

Presenteeism can often be exemplified by company leaders who stay at work while sick. If company leaders are unlikely to take sick days, then their employees may feel uncomfortable taking time off for themselves.

The best strategy is to lead by example. If company leaders actually take sick days, then their employees may feel more comfortable taking time off for themselves. Take into account the message you’re sending by coming into work sick, and ensure that your employees feel comfortable asking for that time off.

One company in the United States has implemented an “Unsick Day” to encourage all of their employees across the country to take a day off for preventative health.This is a day that they allot for check-ups, screenings and dental work, which if neglected, could lead to worse ailments and longer sick leaves.

Educate your employees on their resources

Often employees might be unaware of human resource policies, workplace and leave flexibilities provided by a business. It’s important to provide employees with the right information—hanging informational posters about the risks of coming into work sick in common areas can provide this knowledge.

Ensure your employees understand the conditions for staying home—whether that’s the number of paid sick-leave days they can take, or whether they should be working remotely until their conditions are no longer contagious.

Provide preventive health programs

Along with coaching programs to encourage healthy lifestyle changes, and “unsick” days for your employees, simply altering your employee wellness packages to encourage healthy behaviour year-round can help keep the number of those who contract the flu to a minimum.

Comprehensive wellness programs, employee assistance programs, fitness centres and access to flu shots can ultimately keep your drug costs down and keep your employees healthy and productive.

In terms of ensuring that your employees get the care they do need, should they fall ill, virtual care and physician video visits are great ways to get your employees to the doctor, without them ever having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Know your rights as an employer

There is no law in Canada requiring employers to provide paid sick days to their employees. However, having paid sick days in place would ultimately discourage your employees from showing up to work sick, preventing the spread of illness and affecting overall productivity.

If an employee is refusing to take sick days, however, an employer has the right to send them home under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in order to ensure the protection of other employees right to a safe workplace. They can also require an employee to provide a medical certificate before permitting them to return to work.

For more information on health solutions available to your business, visit www.medcan.com/business.

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