How to Reduce Germs in the Workplace

by Rachel Hartman on October 9, 2013
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As the fourth quarter begins, small-business owners can anticipate more than the rigors of Black Friday. Cold and flu season is also upon us.

If you aren’t careful, germs will thrive in your office. More than half of commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and copy-machine buttons, can become infected with a virus when a single person in the office is ill, according to a study by the University of Arizona.

To reduce germs in the workplace and keep employees healthy and productive, adopt these strategies.

1. Make cleaning easy. Regular surface cleaning minimizes germ exposure, notes Dr. Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, medical director of Loyola University Health System’s Occupational Health Services. Clear clutter from countertops, especially around sinks and food preparation areas, to make them simple to wipe down. Keep hand sanitizer within easy reach in high-traffic areas, such as near the office refrigerator and coffeepot.

Beyond keeping the restrooms clean, consider hanging a sign near the soap dispenser to remind employees to wash their hands before returning to work. (Seventy percent of adults admit to just rinsing without soap, according to a survey by Bradley Corp.)

2. Send sick employees home. Productivity used to drop during the cold and flu season at cSubs, a corporate subscriptions agency. So the company put a “go home when sick” policy in place. “We had people sick the entire winter. From October to April, there was always somebody out,” recalls Julie Auslander, president and chief cultural officer. At certain points, the 18-employee firm had only three people in the office, she says.

To reverse the sickness trend, Auslander set up a policy for ill employees to stay home until they were fully recovered. “It’s in the handbook. We tell it to new hires, and if someone comes to work not looking well, we send them home,” she says. “I cut the absentee rate by 85 percent.”

3. Enable telecommuting. Auslander also established a telecommuting program at cSubs that allows employees to work from home while they’re recovering. Previously, she says, “people would come to work prematurely and get sick again. Now they stay home an extra day and work from home instead. When they come back, they’re really healthy.” The program also supports employees who need to stay home to care for a sick child.

4. Make staying healthy a team effort. Keeping health at the forefront of employees’ minds can be part of an effective overall campaign at the office. Dr. Capelli-Schellpfeffer suggests finding prominent places to hang posters that remind people to wash their hands before meals, after sneezing or coughing, and when moving between tasks.

Meanwhile, if you have a prevention program in place that offers annual flu shots [PDF], make sure employees are aware of it. “Although there is a cost involved in promoting wellness, it is small in comparison to the pricey hit companies take when their workforce is impaired by illness,” she notes. “A flu shot program is an investment that yields big returns for businesses.”

Rachel Hartman is a writer who frequently covers topics related to small businesses. Her work has appeared in The Costco Connection, Wells Fargo Conversations, Pizza Today, Bankrate.com, InsuranceQuotes.com, CreditCardGuide.com, and many other outlets.

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