How to Maintain a Flu-Free Workplace

How to Achieve Work/Life Balance

By Matt Alderton

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Amid all the joy of the holiday season, it's easy to forget: Goodwill on earth isn't the only thing that arrives this time of year. Cold and flu viruses are right behind it, costing companies millions of dollars every year.

In fact, in a typical year the flu virus is responsible for approximately 70 million missed workdays and an estimated $10 billion in lost office productivity, according to office products retailer Staples, which recently released the results of its third annual Flu Season Survey.

Key findings, according to Staples:

• Nearly 80 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick. For those that stay home, more than two-thirds return to work when they are still contagious.

• More than half (51 percent) of employees only clean their desks once a week or less, even though germs can live on surfaces for up to three days, especially on the keyboard — typically one of the dirtiest personal workspace items.

• A quarter (25 percent) of employees believe that doorknobs/handles are the dirtiest places in the office, while only 6 percent recognize that the break room sink is actually the dirtiest, followed by the office microwave, which only 8 percent selected.

• Nearly half of workers cited their concern about completing work as the reason they don't stay home sick. More than a quarter of respondents come to work to avoid using a sick day, even though a majority of those surveyed indicated their average productivity level while sick was only around 50 percent.

To keep your workplace flu-free this year, Staples recommends:

Offering/encouraging a telecommuting program: "Employers may want to consider implementing a telecommuting program — or encourage use of an existing program — as a way to help address employees coming into the office when sick," Staples said. "Of those respondents whose company offers a telecommuting option, nearly half take advantage of the option when sick to avoid spreading germs in office."

Stocking up: "Nearly half of office workers surveyed request specific items be provided by employers, such as sanitizing wipes, touch-free restroom fixtures, waterless hand sanitizers and antibacterial soap in restrooms and break rooms," Staples said. "Survey results show break rooms need special attention, as most workers aren't aware of the hidden germs lurking there."

Educating employees: "Office workers are … unsure how to best fight the flu," Staples said. "Educate your staff about how often to clean their desks, how long they should stay home when sick and crucial areas in the office that need to be frequently disinfected, so your business can prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses."

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