As much as we don’t want to admit it, cold and flu season is upon us. Although the exact timing and duration of flu seasons can fluctuate from year to year, the CDC reports that influenza activity typically begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February, sometimes lasting into May. The flu - a respiratory virus often marked by fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and more - is miserable at the least and, at its worst, can be deadly.

While there is no way to completely eradicate the risk of flu in the workplace, there are several proactive steps you can take to keep your employees healthy and working throughout the cold and flu season. This not only benefits the health and wellbeing of your workers, it helps your bottom line by incurring fewer sick days and absent employees. Here, find 5 tips for keeping your workplace healthy and flu-free.

1. Encourage best practices in personal hygiene among your employees.

The number one preventative measure you can take to avoid the flu is promoting proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Consider posting instructive signs in all restrooms and stocking each area of the workplace with alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Educate your employees on proper handwashing, including:

  • When to wash: after blowing your nose, sneezing, coughing, or coming into contact with contaminated surfaces;
  • How to wash: apply soap and water and rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, then rinse and dry hands thoroughly;
  • What to do if unable to wash (or between hand washings): use an alcohol-based hand rub, applying the liquid to the palm of the hand and rubbing hands together, covering all surfaces of the hand, until dry.

Sharing proper cough etiquette is also an important part of employee education, including:

  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your upper sleeve(s).
  • Use “no-touch” wastebaskets and trash cans for tissue disposal.

2. Take steps to reduce environmental risks.

There are several simple things you can do to ensure that your workplace environment remains as safe and germ-free as possible.

  • Sanitize surfaces often. Any surface touched by hands is likely to harbor and spread germs. Keep a supply of alcohol-based wipes in several areas so that employees can wipe down phones, work tools, computers, and other equipment throughout the day. Empower and encourage your employees to keep their own workspaces, as well as those that are shared, clean.

  • Pay special attention to high traffic areas. Kitchens and bathrooms are areas of particular concern as places where germs often hide and spread. Shared water fountains and coffee mugs are also a high risk for viruses and bacteria. Establish the use of proper disinfectants in these places.

  • Ensure that you have appropriate flooring. Floors can be incredibly germy. By having the proper entrance mats or flooring specifically designed for contamination control, you can even further eliminate the possibility of harboring harmful germs.

  • Provide plenty of sanitizing supplies. Keep tissues, hand sanitizer, and alcohol-based wipes handy throughout the environment, as well as the proper disinfectants and cleaning agents for all surfaces.

3. Offer company-sponsored vaccinations.

The CDC recommends that employers offer an onsite flu vaccination clinic to encourage all workers to receive the vaccine. Even if you don’t have an occupational health clinic in the workplace, pharmacies and community vaccinators can be contracted to administer flu shots.

4. Allow workplace flexibility and encourage sick employees to stay home.

In order to minimize absenteeism among the company as a whole, it’s important that workers experiencing signs and symptoms of the flu stay home. Ensure that you are creating a work environment where employees feel comfortable not reporting to work if they have active symptoms. It’s especially vital for managers to take time away from the workplace when they feel ill in order to avoid sending mixed messages or setting the wrong tone by coming to work sick.

In addition, consider offering employees the option of working remotely when they are ill or caring for sick family members. If this is not possible in your particular environment, you may be able to provide personal days for workers to use for doctor’s appointments and checkups.

5. Create a culture of well-being in the workplace.

Creating and promoting a culture of health and wellness among your employees can go a long way toward both improving your work environment and preventing illness. Research shows that as we change our behaviors for the better we reduce our health risks, and efforts to provide employees with healthier choices, giving them the opportunity to exercise, and prioritizing mental health can all contribute to a boost in their immunity to cold and flu germs.

No one wants to deal with the flu, but each year it is a threat to workers everywhere. By taking these proactive steps, however, you can reduce the risk among your workforce and help your employees remain healthy, productive and present throughout flu season.