Seasonal flu is not only unpleasant for employers and employees, it’s expensive. Each flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost because of the flu, the US Department of Health & Human Services has found. That represents approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.
Most of us have seen a sick co-worker trying to make his way through the workday instead of being home resting or in bed. But coming to work with a cold, flu or other illness is a bad idea. It can make all of us less productive.
It’s no wonder that some companies are considering requiring that employees get a flu vaccine every flu season. However, before implementing such a requirement, companies need to consider many different factors. While a flu vaccine offers the greatest protection against the virus, mandating it carries its own logistical costs and can lead to unhappy employees.
If you do come to work sick, you’ll probably infect your co-workers. A 2010 Virginia Tech study found that a single sneeze from a worker with the flu can infect an entire room with the virus for hours. And while many people recover from the flu within a week or so, others may develop serious complications that can sometimes lead to death.
If you don’t stay home to get well, your workplace almost always ends up less productive and you’re more likely to get injured because you will be more focused on how terrible you feel than on working safely.
The Effects of the Flu
While the flu is generally an unpleasant experience for most healthy adults, it can be extremely serious and even fatal. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. “The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year,” the CDC says.
While most people recover from their symptoms in less than two weeks, some may have complications that include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. Those with chronic health problems, such as asthma, may see them worsen after a bout with the flu.
Part of the problem with the flu is its unpredictability. The flu can strike down anyone, even those who are healthy. It’s impossible to know from one season to the next how serious the flu may be, or even how effective the vaccines against it will be.
How to Protect Yourself
You may stay home when you are sick, but still find yourself working next to co-workers who are sniffling and sneezing their way through their day.
Here’s how you can keep yourself healthy and minimize the risk of catching or spreading a cold, flu or other virus:
- Wash your hands frequently, using plenty of soap and warm water. Wash for at least 15 seconds, paying attention to your fingertips, the area between your fingers, the bases of your thumbs, the backs of your hands and wrists and your lower arms. Use a paper towel to turn off the tap and open the bathroom door.
- Since you often use your hands when you interact with others, never cough or sneeze into your hands. Bend your arm and cough or sneeze into your elbow. An uncovered cough or sneeze can spread airborne droplets of germs over several feet.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. These are superhighways for germs. Most people aren’t even aware they’re touching their own faces, so make a conscious “hands-off” effort and you’ll cut your risk for picking up the flu.
- Help your immune system help you. Make sure you eat properly, get enough rest and exercise regularly to keep your immune system as strong as possible.
Working while you are sick isn’t doing anyone, least of all your co-workers any good. Stay at home if you catch a cold, flu or virus. It’s in everyone’s best interest.