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Preventing Office Illness in Winter

9 November 2017

We’re already in November and winter is most certainly here. Sadly, whenever winter arrives, it’s accompanied by an epidemic of sniffles, sneezes, blocked noses and raised temperatures. This is because winter’s the time we swaddle ourselves in layers, turn up the office heaters and close every window we can find; we provide bugs and viruses with the perfect environment in which to breed and flourish. No one wants to be ill, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and no employer wants staff calling in sick right before the holidays.

So what can employers do to protect their staff and maintain productivity?

Ventilate

We all try to stay warm in the bitter British winter and shutting windows is a pretty obvious way to achieve this. However, shutting the office windows for long periods of time prevents ventilation, which means that the same air circulates the office for hours, thereby increasing the likelihood that germs will spread among your employees.

You may find that you will be met with a lot of hostility by opening the office windows; people don’t like to be cold and the British winter can be particularly bitter. Nonetheless, enforcing a simple policy that states you must open the office windows regularly, to allow for some fresh air, will help stop germs from spreading quite so vigorously. It’s doesn’t need to be for a long time, just explain to your employees your reasoning, then shut the windows again! Either that, or put in place some sort of air filtration system to keep the office – and your employees – fresh.

Encourage employees to go out for lunch

Going outside into the cold seems counterproductive if you’re trying to prevent illness. But, as long your employees are wrapped up warm, they should definitely step outside for some of that fresh air on their break. Furthermore, sitting a desk all day can make you feel quite run down and lethargic which won’t do you any favours if you’re battling the office germs, especially if the office heaters are on constantly, dehydrating your employees. Going out for lunch wakes you up, breaks up the day and gets you away from the same environment for an hour or so.

Keep the bathroom stocked

Keeping the office toilets well-stocked with soaps and cleaning supplies is pretty simple, which is precisely why it can be overlooked by business owners. Give your employees every opportunity to maintain levels of personal hygiene if you want to reduce the likelihood of a flu outbreak. See our blog post, ‘Clean Hands Can Save Your Life’, for proper hand washing techniques and detailed information on the pathogens found on people’s hands. You want your employees to wash their hands before handing you a pen or using the photocopier. So make sure they can.

Provide desk cleaning supplies & antibacterial gel

Other precautionary measures you should take include supplying your employees with some cleaning tools they can use to wipe over their desk. Workplace desks are notorious for hosting a number of bacteria and illness-causing viruses, a reputation that is easily battled by a regular wipe down. In our previous blog post, ‘The Germy Grind’, we walked you through the working day and highlighted the major moments of bacteria transference that you’re regularly exposed to. We found out that Cold and Flu viruses capable of causing infections can last up to 24 hours on hard surfaces – desks, door handles, kitchen sides, etc. Combine that with the lack of office ventilation and voilà, the whole team are ill!

To battle these pesky germs, put some generic supplies in the office kitchen or cabinet and make sure your employees know where they are and that they can use them. For further information on how to keep desks clean, see this article ‘Bacteria and Viruses at Work’ from the Deb Group. It is also worth placing antibacterial soap dispensers around the office for staff to use whenever necessary. It could be the difference between a productive week of work and a week of absences and missed deadlines.

Check for and deal with any mould or damp areas

If your workplaces functions in an old building, you could be vulnerable to mould, particularly during those damp winter months. Check your entire workplace for the presence of any mould and deal with it straight away by calling a professional. The prolonged presence of mould and damp air can cause severe respiratory issues for your employees, which can either cause or make worse illnesses.

Don’t make your employees feel like they can’t call in sick

Being the boss is hard, particularly when you have loads of upcoming deadlines and a member of staff calls in sick. You might even feel like some of your employees aren’t as sick as they say they are. Some really are ill though, especially during the infamous flu season. Don’t make them feel like they have to come in if they’re poorly. This benefits no one. An ill employee, or one coming down with an illness, is a liability in the workplace. The close proximity to other workers and circulation of the same, contaminated air will increase the likelihood that a virus spreads and another employee becomes ill. Moreover, a sick employee is incapable of the same level of productivity as their healthy co-workers; they might just slow everyone down. If they feel that they absolutely have to work, see if they can work from home, but under no circumstances should you pressure a genuinely ill person to come into work.

Be proactive and communicate with your employees

Prevent a flu epidemic in your workplace this year by adopting a proactive attitude and taking reasonable precautionary measures. Communicate your actions to your employees, particularly if you’ve got a lot going on in your business over the next few months. Reinforce the importance of their participation and encourage them to make the right choices.

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