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Top 5 tips for managing absences during the flu season


Flu epidemics are common in Australia during the winter months, and employers regularly suffer from increased absence rates at this time. Large companies in particular have to be extra cautious, since flu can spread quickly and decimate multiple departments, with significant consequences. While in extreme cases the epidemic can lead to missed deadlines and financial losses, those negative effects can mostly be averted with smart choice of workforce management practices.

This list of actionable tips can provide a roadmap for employers looking to keep absences under control and avoid workforce shortages at the height of the flu season:


1. Educate your employees about the flu danger

Most people are generally aware that catching the flu is a possibility, but some go years without getting sick and may downplay the danger. It’s essential to educate the workers about preventive measures in advance of the flu season, thus minimizing the chance of an outbreak in the office. It should be ingrained in office culture never to share cups and always to wash hands, even if it leads to a few embarrassing situations. Workers belonging to high risk groups, such as pregnant women or aboriginal people, should be in the focus of educational efforts.


2. Organize voluntary vaccination

Flu vaccines are not a guarantee against an infection, but they significantly reduce the likelihood. The decision whether to acquire this protection must be made individually, but employers are allowed to recommend vaccination and facilitate it for employees who choose to participate in the program. Any associated expenses won’t be as painful as the lost productivity in case of a widespread appearance of the flu. If just a small part of the staff receives this immunological boost, that might be enough to prevent large-scale staffing problems once the flu starts raging.


3. Keep anyone with symptoms at home

It’s impossible to prevent everyone from falling ill with flu, but it’s possible to contain the contagion by insisting that workers stay away from the office whenever they are feeling even the slightest symptoms. Replacing one worker for a few days is much easier than trying to endure a chain of absences that would surely result if the virus takes holds of the office. Employees need to be firmly assured that taking a day off to recuperate won’t negatively affect their career in any way, especially those who are on short-term contracts or have just recently been hired.


4. Maintain good ventilation in the office

Influx of clean air is essential for decreasing the amount of germs in the office, so it’s a savvy practice to check up the HVAC system in May or early June and replace any leaking pipes or dirty filters. That way the office will be well prepared once the worst part of the flu season approaches. Proper ventilation can also decrease the chances of a ‘sick building syndrome’ developing and causing additional absences. Considering the reasonable cost of such maintenance, this measure should be performed every year.


5. Have a contingency plan

Despite best efforts at prevention, it’s entirely possible that flu epidemic will hit hard and ruin the original plans. However, smart companies are prepared for this possibility and can switch to plan B if the worst occurs. In some cases, it’s possible to hold a few workers in reserve and assign them to critical projects that are suffering from flu-induced absences.  Hiring freelancers or part time workers is another option, helping to meet crucial deadlines and avoid letting the customers down because of a severe workforce shortage.

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