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Ill? Keep the germs at home!

With three strains of flu currently making their way around the UK, this year has so far seen record levels of sickness in the workplace. In far too many cases, sick employees still attempt to make it into work, particularly those who work as contractors with no entitlement to paid sick leave. However, this phenomenon, known as ‘presenteeism’, can be far more damaging to remaining staff and to business continuity than its counterpart, ‘absenteeism’. So what should employers be doing to make sure both their employees and business activity remain healthy?

Firstly, as is the case within all aspects of an organisation’s day-to-day processes, communication is key. Employers need to let all staff know, whether this is through verbal advice, given communally, or helpful signage put up in communal areas, that they should take as much time off as is necessary when illness strikes. Remind employees that there will be no punishments for taking days off, instead emphasise that they will be doing a service to their fellow co-workers, who will avoid the risk of infection.

Allowing staff to fully recuperate is absolutely vital for the health of all staff members, not just those afflicted. Certainly, those infected with flu or other contagious illnesses should rest as part of their own recovery, which could be seriously delayed by any over exertion or unnecessary exposure to further stimuli. However, it is also is important to limit further disturbance through the spread of infection to others members of the team. Ploughing on with work could pose a serious threat to business continuity.  Allowing illnesses to spread around the workplace may result in only skeleton staff handling operations, which is likely to put unnecessary  strain on everyone.

From an employee’s point of view, some may feel financially obliged to make their way into work if they are working as a contractor with no paid sick leave. However, by doing so, they will likely be delaying their own recovery time and putting others at risk. The smart choice is to call in sick as early as possible, so as to give employers time to adjust the rota, then rest up and return fully rejuvenated in a few days.

Before an illness truly takes a grip on the workplace, there are ways employers can limit the spread of infection before they have had a chance to properly break out. Effective cleaning and the upkeep of stringent hygiene standards will help to ensure that the business is in the best possible state, minimising the spread of germs.

With regards to cleaning, it is certainly worth delegating individual responsibilities to employees, allowing each individual to maintain a tidy and hygienic working space. Clearing workstations at the end of each day, disposing of rubbish and thoroughly washing up mugs, cutlery and plates will go a long way if each employee does their bit. This way there will be minimal potential for the spread of harmful bacteria or cross-contamination.

Employers should also make sure to remind employees of their own obligations when it comes to personal hygiene in the workplace. Through the use of signage in washrooms, employees should be made aware of the widely agreed recommendation that hands should be washed for a minimum of 20 seconds, with suitable antibacterial soap. By passing on this, and other appropriate and helpful information to staff members, employers can be assured that the entire workforce will have the necessary guidance to prevent the spread of infection as far as is reasonably possible.

Being struck down with an illness is never a pleasant experience and the best course of action for any employee who may be feeling under the weather is to stay at home and rest. Getting over the perceived pressure of getting into work is never easy, but employers can help make it less of an issue by emphasising that keeping germs away from the office is in everyone’s best interests.

Written by George Hand, cleaning, hygiene and catering specialist Office Depot UK & Ireland.

About Sarah OBeirne

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