Approximately 10-12 percent of all absences from work are because of the flu. That translates to about 15 million lost workdays a year.

Flu in the Workplace: Why Should You Care?

Oct. 12, 2012
The flu not only costs employees money, but employers should be aware of what the flu means to business. The more employees there are in a work area, the greater the chance they will come in contact with the virus through the air or shared surfaces.

Every year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the United States population gets the flu. Estimates of the effects of the common flu strain on productivity vary, but most statistics indicate that absenteeism, healthcare costs  and presenteeism are costly for business.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average employee is off work 2.8 days with a case of the flu. If 15 million workers get the flu in a winter, that translates into a cost of nearly $20 billion for U.S. employees. This figure doesn't even include the cost incurred when employees go to work sick and can't perform at their peak. It is estimated that these employees who come to work with the flu increase lost workdays by 10 percent to 30 percent, according to the report "Combating Normal Flu Virus" by Sharon Kaleta, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

The Center for Health Research Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year. Sick workers are less productive, take longer to get better and often infect their colleagues. In a typical year, it is estimated that flu alone can result in as much as $10 billion in lost productivity.

Steps You Can Take in the Workplace

Flu can flourish in a workplace environment because of how the virus is spread. Flu commonly is spread from respiratory droplets that can travel up to 3 feet from the cougher or sneezer. Breathing in these droplets or touching something with the virus on it, like a phone or doorknob, and then touching the eyes, mouth or nose can infect a person.

Fortunately, there are several options for businesses to cut down on the spread of flu during the peak of the season:

  1. Stress the importance of staying home while contagious.
  2. Invest in IT solutions that allow employees to work from home, if possible, as they feel better but are still contagious.
  3. Ask janitorial services to give extra attention to wiping down high traffic surfaces like fax and photocopy machines, or the break room microwave.
  4. Provide disinfecting towels for employees to be proactive.
  5. Suggest employees use over-the-counter aids that do not cause side effects, such as drowsiness.

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