Flu is a killer. It quite literally kills up to 4,000 Americans a week during peak flu season. And it kills business profits, too. New estimates of direct costs to business from flu-related absences, presenteeism and health care utilization costs have more than doubled to $15.4 billion, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas – up from $7 billion just a few short years ago. But now’s the optimal time for employers to get in front of the problem and protect employees and their families by executing a flu vaccination drive in the workplace.
Each year, up to 1 in 5 Americans get infected the flu virus.Every case knocks employees off the job by 4 days, on average. The flu virus causes 3.1 million hospitalizations and 34.1 million outpatient hospital visits. That costs employers millions of lost work days each year, and amounts to the more than $15 billion cost estimate arrived at by Challenger, Gray and Christmas. If the next flu season is as severe as the swine flu epidemic of 2009, those losses could go as high as $21 billion.
And we all know that flu symptoms last a lot longer than the three or four days workers are taking off. Employers are also bearing a hidden cost of between one and two weeks of reduced employee productivity “presenteeism” costs every time a worker comes down with the virus.
Here’s what’s worse: Employees are only taking about 4 days off of work. But the virus remains contagious a day before and up to a week after they become symptomatic.
Furthermore, up to 30 percent of carriers don’t have any symptoms. They don’t get sick, but they can still spread the virus to others.
Which, of course, provides the disease opportunities to spread to other workers and customers.
Meanwhile, the flu drives employee health care utilization costs way up, as workers spend up to $34 billion each year in treatment and prescription drug costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Much of this cost is preventable, with increased participation in influenza vaccine programs.
August through October is the Optimal Time for Flu Vaccination Events
Onsite workplace flu vaccination programs are proven cost savers – And the optimal time to schedule one is in August, September or October — several months before the flu season hits with a snowy vengeance. This is because it takes a few weeks before the immunological effects of the flu vaccine reach their peak, and because employee immune systems tend to be at their strongest during the summer – reducing the potential for negative side effects of the vaccine itself.
Flu season can begin as early as October, but peak flu season arrives in January and February, so vaccinations well into October and even later can still be effective as we head into the most dangerous months for the flu virus.
Don’t have an onsite nurse? If you have more than 30 to 50 employees, you can have one come to you. If you’re a smaller company, you can issue vouchers. And employees who don’t have health insurance may be able to receive the vaccine for free. Your workplace health insurance plan may also provide coverage.
Provide Paid Sick Leave
Seriously. Provide paid sick leave. This is 2018, and we aren’t living in a Dickens novel. Provide paid sick leave. Seriously. Only 30 percent of workers in the lowest wage quintile get paid sick days. And lots of them handle food and are direct care workers, or work in retail, handling goods and handing cash back and forth.
A 2010 policy brief from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 8 million people came to work that year while sick with the flu – and infected 7 million more people in the process.
Don’t put the entire burden of lost wages on lower-wage employees already struggling to pay their bills and then wonder why they come into work sick.
- Communicate the heck out of your event or free or discounted flu vaccines, but ensure employees know it’s voluntary.
- Have senior executives lead the way. The boss should be first in line to receive his or her flu shot – and people around the office should see it.
- Start arranging any onsite vaccination events now. Anticipate about 4 weeks lead time before onsite flu vaccine vendors can schedule an event. But it doesn’t take long to set up a voucher program or an account with a local vendor.
- Download informational posters from flu vaccination vendors and from the CDC and put them up around the work site. Propaganda works!
- Print out and distribute this Flu Vaccination Statement from the CDC ahead of time. Here it is in Spanish and many other languages.
- Provide a space for an onsite flu vaccination. Provide pens, writing tables, and a seating/waiting area. Ensure chairs are available for workers who may feel faint or woozy after getting the shots.
- If you also track other health care metrics, such as blood pressure or weight, this is a great time to capture that data, too. Or use the event to capture survey data and establish a baseline for assessing future wellness initiatives. Think of ways to reward employees for progress.
- Track sick days, productivity, time off for doctor’s appointments and other metrics and compare them to prior years’ numbers.
- Tell workers not to come in if they’re sick. If they show up sick, send them home.
- Implement hand sanitization stations at registers, break rooms and other areas workers routinely use their hands and handle cash, food and merchandise or come in contact with other individuals and encourage employees to use them. Hand out sanitizer bottles to employees in the work area and insist they use them regularly.