Employees who ignore advice to have an influenza vaccination are contributing to an enormous cost to business, writes Emma Williams. It starts with a sniffle. One employee insists they’re not contagious and they’re fine to be at work, but slowly the flu spreads through your entire workplace, potentially crippling your business. According to Queensland Department of Health, it is estimated colds and flu cause Australian businesses to lose 1.5 million workdays each year.
Kim Sampson, CEO of the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG), said flu vaccinations were the best way to protect your business from influenza this year. “Influenza is very much something we want to prevent rather than treat,” he said. Sampson acknowledged that getting all staff on board can be difficult. He said a new ISG survey shows only 18 per cent of Australian adults aged 35 to 49 understand vaccination is one of the best ways to protect themselves from contracting the flu. Sampson explained there are many myths and misconceptions about flu vaccine and the first thing you need to do is eliminate those. “You can’t force people to do it, but you can explain the benefits. There needs to be some sort of education process. There are still people who think you can get the flu from the vaccine but, of course, you can’t,” he said. “You need to explain it’s not only you as an individual who will be protected but others around you. Particularly if you have a family with young children or elderly relatives, you need to prevent the flu from being spread to them.” For organisations dealing with at-risk clients, it is even more important to get workers vaccinated.
“Those caring for the elderly, disabled or chronically sick should be vaccinated. It’s about protecting their patients who may be at risk of severe complications from influenza.” As well as vaccinating, Sampson suggested managers remind their team about flu etiquette. This includes covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, disposing of tissues, hand washing and wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial products because the flu virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to eight hours. Anyone who does feel a flu coming on should stay at home. Those who come into work while sick not only risk infecting other people but are partaking in an activity known as presenteeism.
Presenteeism happens when productivity is lost because employees come to work but due to illness or other medical conditions are not fully productive. A study by Medibank found the overall cost of presenteeism to the Australian economy in 2009-10 was $34.1 billion and on average, six-and-a- half working days worth of productivity are lost per employee annually as a result of presenteeism. Sampson warned that you’re often contagious before you realise it. “The problem with the flu is you can spread the virus before you’re really sick. If you do feel like you’re coming down with it you can go to a GP and try to get it treated with an anti-viral. But that needs to be acted upon very quickly. The anti-viral is only really effective if you take it within the first 48 hours of symptoms. “But you need rest. The best treatment for the flu is rest, even if you take an anti-viral. You’re still shedding the virus for up to six or seven days. Staying at home means you’ll recover more quickly and won’t be spreading it to others.”