managing sickness

Managing sickness during the Cold and Flu season

Managing sickness during the Cold and Flu season

In this article, Senior HR Consultant, Louise Angell explores managing sickness during the cold and flu season and offers advice on how to reduce the spread within the workplace.

We have all seen a big spike in cold and flu cases this season compared to the last couple of years. The NHS reported that an average of 344 hospital beds a day in England were taken up by flu cases in the second week of November 2023.

Is your workplace taking necessary steps to protect your workforce and keep absence low?

Remember the days when we could only go for a 30-minute walk alone, shop alone and kept ourselves locked away at home – who could forget? Except many of us have. When was the last time you wore a mask when in public or sang happy birthday whilst washing your hands in the correct sequence for the required length of time? Maybe you still do but there are many that don’t. So there is no surprise that our hospital beds are filling up fast and employee sickness has increased.

Sickness cost the UK economy £20.6bn last year so is not something to shrug off. Employers should be questioning, how much this loss has affected their business. If sickness absence is not managed properly within your business, it can cost you a significant amount of money.

Whilst many businesses have evolved into hybrid working we still have filled offices and warehouses, employees visiting domestic properties, and families going to school, college and university which means the spread of germs and viruses is harder to control.

Best practices to reduce sickness.

You could remind your staff of the very important steps to take to stop the spread of germs and viruses that take our staff away from the workplace.

  • Get vaccinated and allow staff time off to get their jabs.
  • Avoid unnecessary over-attended meetings in small office spaces.
  • Keep your offices well-ventilated.
  • Wear face coverings where possible, not just at work but on the way to and from the workplace and in your private time.
  • Keep your distance, the more distance the less chance you have of being a carrier and bringing something into the workspace.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Use hand sanitiser regularly and have a stocked sanitation station.
  • Provide anti-bacterial wipes to sanitise the workspace, machinery, desktops, and shared areas – don’t forget about the kettle!
  • Cover coughs and sneezes (remember using the inner side of the elbow with a bent arm and catch more germs and prevent you from spreading them by coughing/ sneezing into your hand).

Managing sickness absence

However, no matter how much you can try to prevent sickness amongst your employees, inevitably employees get sick. It is important to manage this correctly when they are, in order for them to make a speedy recovery.

Many employees see calling in sick as a last resort, with 32% of employees feeling guilty for doing because it would mean a colleague having to pick up work for them. Employers need to work on removing this type of culture from their workplace. If an employee continues to work whilst unwell you may experience reduced productivity and increased errors. As well as this, if the employee does not rest when they need to it could result in them getting sicker or not fully recovering, which may lead to reoccurring sickness. It is in both the employees’ and employers’ best interest to support phoning in sick when needed. Therefore employers should voice their support of necessary sickness days.

Another option to consider, if your business can support this, is hybrid working. Allowing employees to work from home if they’re sick, but feel ok to work helps to reduce the spread of illness within the office. Which, in turn, reduces the chance of other colleagues catching this illness and needing to be off work. The increase in trust and flexibility we have experienced since the pandemic helps to facilitate this. However, employees should be reminded that if they feel too ill, they should take the day off.

Return-to-Work meetings

After an employee sickness absence, you should conduct a return-to-work meeting. You should complete these regardless of whether the employee is off for one day or one week. This meeting helps you to ensure that the employee is well enough to return to work. In addition, it is useful to remind them of the importance of prevention, and ask them to take an active part and prevent the spread. We are all responsible for keeping ourselves and each other safe, what better lesson than the pandemic, let’s learn and be better.

To find out more information or if you require any advice regarding managing sickness within your workplace, get in contact with our team of experts.

T: 0330 107 1037


Twitter: @HPC_HRServices

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