Employers need to challenge their blinkered attitudes towards staff taking time off to recover from illness, says AXA PPP Healthcare
The end of the year marks the start of the busy season for many small businesses. When you combine together extra hours with the arrival of colds and the flu, you can easily find yourself in the perfect storm of productivity – too many deadlines and too few staff.
For many small business owners, sick leave seems more like a curse than a blessing. As a result, employees end up coming into work when they would be better off staying at home. What is the right answer for small businesses? Is there anything you can do now to protect your employees from illness and limit sick time’s impact on your productiveness?
The impact is undeniable
Minor illnesses such as cold, coughs and the flu account for as much as 30% of sick days taken in the UK, making them the most common reason people missed work. All of those missed days add up to a not insignificant loss in revenue. When looking specifically at the flu season, a Cooperative Pharmacy study found that influenza cost the UK economy £1.35 billion annually in lost working days.
Early prevention goes a long way
“There is no point in sticking your head in the sand when it comes to flu season,” says Lynn Morrison, head of business engagement at Opus Energy.
“As soon as the leaves start to fall, you should start talking to your team about how to keep from getting sick, and what you expect them to do if it happens. The first step in your plan should be preventing the flu- the annual flu vaccine is designed to protect against the strains of influenza that are expected to be most common that year, and you should get a new vaccine each autumn. Offering reduced price, incentivised or free flu vaccinations is a great way to do this.”
Lloyd’s Pharmacy offer a corporate service where they can set up a vaccination clinic in your premises, whilst Boots offers businesses a Corporate Flu Vaccination Service which allows you to offer flu vaccinations at no cost to your employees.
“Subsidising vaccinations does require an upfront investment, but it can be much less than the costs of having one or more team members out sick for an extended time.
“Another good option is to purchase vouchers for free vaccinations at local pharmacies, allowing them to go whenever it is convenient. Vouchers can be a great option for small businesses or businesses with a wide variety of working hours.”
Preventing the spread
“No matter how hard you try, unfortunately there isn’t a way to 100% prevent someone from catching a winter cold or the flu. What you can prevent is the illness from spreading throughout your team. Hygiene basics like hand washing reminders, sanitiser and tissues will help during those early hours when symptoms start to arise. No one wants to get sick, so having easy access to tools to help you stay well is bound to be a hit.”
If someone does get the flu, send them home. Unlike common colds, flu symptoms come on quickly and can last up to a week. Most cases can be treated by simple rest. However, if employees feel that they need to continue to come into work despite being seriously ill, the duration and potential complications can turn what would have been a few days off into something much longer.
An AXA PPP healthcare study found that more than 50% of senior managers do not think that the flu is serious enough to justify time off work. This comes in direct contradiction to NHS guidelines, which recommend rest and recovery time at home.
Glen Parkinson, SME director for AXA PPP healthcare, said: “With managers showing so little understanding of or support for employees suffering from illness, it’s not difficult to see why employees worry about phoning in sick.
“Employers need to challenge this blinkered attitude, both for their own benefit as well as that of their employees. In many cases it is more productive for an employee to take a day off to recover from a spell of illness rather than to come into work, with diminished productivity and, for likes of colds and flu, the potential to spread their illness to workmates.”
Parkinson goes on to suggest employers show sympathy and consider flexible working alternatives as better solutions.
Morrison added: “The obvious goal for small businesses is to have all employees operating at 100%.Turning a blind eye to the winter flu, either by ignoring easy prevention options or discouraging proper recovery time, is not the way to solve the problem.
“Smart employers will make small, upfront investments in preventing the spread of illness through their teams. Supporting employee’s efforts to take appropriate recovery time can keep a single illness from snowballing into an extended and significant impact on your business’ productivity.”