Iqarus: No shame in taking time off with flu

Woman with cold or flu coughing and blowing her nose with a tissue under autumn rain.
Woman with cold or flu coughing and blowing her nose with a tissue under autumn rain.

The last flu season to grip the UK was the worst in seven years. With its grim effects so fresh in the public consciousness and the 2018-19 flu season fast approaching, now is the time for businesses to recognise the potential commercial consequences to being ill-prepared.

Flu is a highly contagious and common viral disease that causes many symptoms seen in a cold, but with greater severity. It is most likely to be passed on to others in the first five days through the spread of germs from coughs and sneezes and it is worth noting that these germs can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

Employers might be concerned with the increased levels of absenteeism that comes with flu season and they are certainly right to give it thought. A bout of the flu is estimated to cost them £522 per employee, which, given the speed it can be passed from person to person, can certainly add up.

But a bigger business issue caused by flu is presenteeism, for which the cost is estimated to be considerably higher. For a start, presenteeism – the term used to describe sick staff coming into work – has a massive impact on productivity. A study by Green and Black estimated that the overall cost of ill health among the working population was more than £108 billion a year in the UK. Of that total, absenteeism was estimated to cost around £9.1bn a year while at £16.3bn the cost of presenteeism is 79.1% higher.

So what can an employer do with this information? In the first instance it should proactively consider all the ways it can reduce the risk of infection among its workforce through a flu vaccination programme. Widespread use of vaccines, according to research by the International Longevity Centre UK, has the potential to save the UK economy up to £28.9 million in both increased productivity at work and averted sick days.

Of course, the rapid evolution of the flu virus from one year to the next means that the efficacy of each new vaccine developed to combat the disease is also variable. So while the number of flu cases in a workplace can be reduced by an annual vaccination programme, the likelihood is it will still be contracted by some staff, at which point it is crucial to mitigate the spread of the disease among
colleagues.

Ensuring employees are not among the 26% of workers who feel guilty when they take a day off work will help.

So too will alleviating the concerns of one in seven workers that they may appear weak to their boss if they take time to recover from a bout of
illness.

There should be no shame in getting over an illness. Especially when those that do so properly are more likely to return to peak productivity and fitness faster, which, ultimately, is in the best interests of all parties involved.

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