We spend at least a third of each day at work — that’s nearly 2,000 hours each year in an office or a cubicle. Our “Wellness at Work” series will explore ideas to help keep you healthy from 9 to 5 and beyond!

If you own a company or manage a staff, then you know that the bottom line is important. You need your employees to complete projects that help to generate revenue.

Flu season, however, can put you and your company in a difficult situation. One sick employee in the office can spread the bug to others, costing your company money in lost productivity. Each year, nearly 111 million work days — about $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity — are lost due to the flu.

It can take up to two weeks (or longer) to recover from the flu. In fact, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year from complications related to the flu. It’s especially dangerous for older people, pregnant women, children under two and people whose immune systems are weak — including cancer and transplant patients.

If your company has a self-funded or self-insured health plan, a severe flu epidemic could create unexpected expenses related to employee claims. And it’s harder to quantify, of course, the human suffering that flu symptoms and serious illness cause.

If you are in a leadership role at your company, there are a few things you can do to educate your employees, keep your office germ free and minimize losses in productivity and revenue related to illness.

Encourage Employees to Get Flu Vaccinations

Getting a flu shot may help protect people from the flu, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months and older get vaccinated. But everyone is busy, and getting vaccinated for the flu may be the last thing on your employees’ minds.

To remind your staff that it’s flu season and that vaccination is effective, hang flu education posters, send emails and use your company’s intranet. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccination to begin to protect you from the virus. It is important to encourage employees to get vaccinated before flu season actually begins so they are protected.

Flu Shot

Getting vaccinated early can protect you when flu season hits.

The HealthMap Vaccine website is an online tool that finds locations that offer several vaccinations, including for the flu. The CDC and flu.gov also have templates and resources that you can easily personalize and distribute at your workplace.

Host an On-Site Flu Vaccination Clinic or Health Workshop

If you think your employees need extra encouragement to get vaccinated, consider offering a convenient, on-site flu vaccination clinic at no or low cost. This will be easier if you already have an established health clinic at your facility. But even if you don’t have such a clinic, pharmacies will often provide flu vaccinations at business locations in the community.

If an on-site vaccination clinic is not possible, host a health workshop. Ask an area health professional or nurse educator to conduct an in-person discussion that includes, but is not limited to, flu prevention. This is a great way to address health myths head on and educate employees on health topics.

Remind Employees That a Flu Shot Is Covered

Several health plans cover flu shots in full. If your company’s health coverage offers this benefit, remind employees they can get vaccinated at in-network locations without having to pay out of pocket for the shot.

The business owner or health plan administrator at your company can contact the health plan company to clarify the coverage and which locations or providers are in network. You can then share the details of coverage info with employees.

Offer Employee Incentives for Getting Vaccinated

There are several ways to incentivize employees to get vaccinated. First, allow employees to show others that they’re taking care to keep the workplace healthy by giving them ribbons or other tags for their badges that indicate they’ve been vaccinated. Seeing co-workers being recognized for their healthy step may also spark other employees to have conversations and get vaccinated.

A friendly office competition may also boost vaccination numbers. Hold a contest and offer prizes for the departments with the highest percentage of vaccinated employees.

Ensure That Sick Workers Stay Home

Stop virus!

Encourage sick employees to stay home if they have the flu.

It may be hard to tell your employees not to come into the office, but keeping one sick worker home can save losing others — and days of productivity — to the flu. The flu is different than a cold, and it often comes on suddenly. It’s important for your employees to recognize if they have the flu — not just a cold — as severe forms of the bug may cause death.

Upper management and business owners should empower their managers to make these decisions. If supervisors can authorize flu-stricken workers to stay home or leave the workplace when ill, it may limit the spread of the infection to other employees.