Flu Season: No Big Deal?

young male man doctor stethoscope flu

It is For Employers!

Flu season. The thought of it is tucked back in the recesses of our mind like other common givens; 1+1=2 and the sky is blue. We take it for granted that flu season will come around again and that the elderly and children should have vaccinations. For the rest of us? “No big deal.”

And yet most of us consider it, “no big deal”.

It’s estimated that 10 to 12 percent of all employee absences are due to this thing we call “no big deal” and that it is one of the leading causes of employee absenteeism. No, the flu doesn’t get the attention of other big-name illnesses or diseases.We don’t talk about it in the workplace like we do material handling safety, but is has big-time impact.

Why is it that the workplace is so hard hit?

Consider the following:

  • Between part-time and full-time positions, employees average 38.6 hours per week at work (Bureau of Labor Statistics – 2015) which represents a lot of employee-to-employee contact time. Even though we don’t often think of it in this way, that’s more time than children spend at school where we know the flu is passed easily from one child to another.
  • Old habits die hard, and even with an awareness campaign regarding the need for employees to wash their hands or practice other hygiene considerations, such as cough etiquette, it is hard to change employee habits.
  • Employees will often come in sick during the most contagious period of the flu (while running a fever), citing they do not want to lose vacation days or pay.

The best defense is a good offense.

It’s almost a given that getting an annual flu shot dramatically lessens the chances of contracting the flu. But it is not enough to encourage employees to get a flu shot. Less than 50% will do this on their own. Between busy schedules and having to think about this after work hours, it simply doesn’t get done.

But having an in-house flu clinic, such as those Washington Occupational Health Associates provides, changes the numbers completely. The Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine showed that over 90% of employees will take part in an in-house, employer-sponsored flu shot campaign. Eighty-four percent do it because it is free, eighty percent because it’s convenient and eighty-two percent to avoid lost work. Furthermore, employees who are vaccinated tend to encourage other family members to do the same, further breaking the cycle of the contagion.

The benefit according to the numbers.

  • Do your own math for your own organization.If you have just 100 employees and consider that on average 15% of your employees will contract the flu this season, with an average absence of 4 days, at an employer cost of $200/day, even when subtracting the cost of the in-house flu clinic the employer will save $8,500 to $9,000, or enjoy an return on investment of approximately 3:1.
  • At the Veterans Affairs Center of Minneapolis, immunizations for 849 workers produced a net savings of $47 per person by reducing days lost from work while increasing employee engagement.
  • Do your own math for your own organization. If you have just 100 employees and consider that on average 15% of your employees will contract the flu this season, with an average absence of 4 days, at an employer cost of $200/day, even when subtracting the cost of the in-house flu clinic the employer will save $8,500 to $9,000, or enjoy an return on investment of approximately 3:1.

And, if you want your company to be viewed as up-to-date and caring about your employees while attracting new talent, hosting flu clinics sends a signal to millennials that you are all those things. With their desire to carry over their personal values into the workplace, hosting flu clinics is a viewed as a positive, in line with their mindset.

Making it happen: Tips for employers

To make an employer-sponsored flu shot clinic as beneficial as possible, and to literally get the most bang for your buck, here are a few tips:

  • First. Schedule your flu shot clinic early. It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to reach its full potential. With the growing popularity of contracted in-house clinics you may be looking several weeks out to schedule your clinic. The calendar won’t be on your side if you wait too late in the flu season.
  • Second. Communicate like crazy. Get the word out in every resource you have at your disposal; payroll stuffers, posters, newsletters – whatever you use. Don’t just talk about the date, place and time. Educate employees as to the effectiveness of the vaccine and how they don’t want to take a workplace-born contagion home to their families.
  • Last. Keep in mind that you can’t make this mandatory. There may be a few who will not wish to take part due to religious or contra-indicated health reasons. But you can require those that opt out to attend a health and awareness class – which, for some, becomes an incentive to just get the shot.

Flu season is a big deal. It’s costly for employers and one of the leading causes of employee absences. Employers have the opportunity, however, to easily side-step many of the costs and problems associated with the flu by simply scheduling a clinic at their place of work. If you’d like to know more, or would like to schedule your own clinic, simply click here