As the cold of winter blows through many regions, the well-being of employees is on the minds of many human resource practitioners. This month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised that the flu season has been unusually active with some 22,048 cases of influenza reported from September to the end of 2012. That’s compared to only 849 flu cases reported from this same time period in 2011. Some believe that it’s because last year’s flu season was relatively mild, making way for new strains of the influenza virus.

What can HR departments do to make the workplace healthier?

It’s clear that employers need to take steps to help maintain a healthy workforce during this worrisome time for many workers. This is for several practical reasons.

First, organizations rely on their staff to keep the business going. When employees or their family members are sick, they are not productive. Second, workplaces can quickly become contagious as employees attempt to work while sick. This only spreads illness, which can be deadly for high-risk individuals. Lastly, the costs of treatment for complications and hospitalizations because of the flu can be astronomical, driving up health insurance premium costs, which ultimately affects all employees.

To keep your workforce healthy, here is some advice to put to action now.

  1. Provide on-site flu shot clinics 2-3 months before the start of the flu season. This gives your employees the chance to get their flu shots free of charge and education about preventing illness.
  2. Partner with an occupational medicine vendor to send a speaker to your organization to talk to employees about staying healthy and safe during flu season. This same vendor can be on call to accept employees who come down with the flu, to avoid costly trips to the ER.
  3. Place posters in critical employee areas reminding them to get flu shots, wash their hands, and report any illness to the HR department immediately.
  4. Add wellness stations to each department, restrooms, and any general employee gathering areas to encourage drinking water and the use of gel hand sanitation and tissues.
  5. Encourage all employees to make use of paid sick time leave and obtain prompt medical care if they or an immediate family member become sick.
  6. Send employees home to rest if they come to work sick, and advise them to go to the occupational medical center for support.

As an employer, you will also want to evaluate the use of temporary services to augment your staffing shortages during the flu season. This can help your company to remain productive while you get through this challenging time. Remember, it’s your responsibility to provide a safe workplace for your employees, so do not hesitate to use the above tips for making the work environment healthier.

What are some ways your business is helping to stop the spread of the 2013 flu season? Please leave your comments below!

Image courtesy of marin /