There’s no getting around it: flu season is the worst.
Not just for employees who suffer from a bout of the flu, but also for the businesses that employ workers who catch the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu accounts for billions of dollars in medical costs and lost wages. Most employees end up in the doctor’s office or sometimes even hospitalized.
The timeline of time off can be rough, too. Employees may need up to two weeks of sick days for flu recovery — sometimes longer if there are complications.
By understanding the seriousness of the flu and taking preventative measures — like hosting a flu shot clinic— you can encourage employees to get vaccinated and stay healthy during flu season.
Here’s a look at how dangerous the flu is physically and financially:
The Difference: Allergies vs. Cold vs. Flu
Unfortunately, the only way to determine whether you have the flu is to see a doctor and get tested. Symptoms of allergies, cold, and flu can feel quite similar. For example, a runny, stuffy nose can be a symptom of all three health conditions.
Below we cover the symptoms of all three and how to tell the difference:
Allergies typically run its course with clearer mucus, runnier noses, and a scratchy throat. Symptoms stay relatively the same and linger longer than the flu.
Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) can cause:
- Itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth
- Runny, stuffy nose
- Watery, red or swollen eyes
Colds usually don’t cause high fevers — maybe 99 to 100 degrees. They typically follow a schedule: First you’ll get a sore throat. Then congestion sets in. Then an aggravating cough that can last anywhere from 4-10 days. It’s annoying but manageable with medicine and remedies to make you feel more comfortable.
Other cold symptoms include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Low-grade fever
- Slight body aches
- Mild headache
The flu comes with the worst of symptoms like body aches, chills and sweats, along with and more unpleasant symptoms. The flu usually lasts one to two weeks and will put you in bed for about as long.
Other flu symptoms to watch for:
- Fever over 100.4 F
- Muscle aches
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Chills and sweats
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
The Physical Effects of the Flu
Unfortunately, the flu will lay you out.
Most flu-ridden employees experience side effects that contribute to lost productivity and the inability to carry out daily activities. Many people relate flu symptoms to feeling like “being hit by a truck” and it requires a lot of rest to recover fully.
The majority of people recover from the worst part of the flu within a week, but it may be a full two weeks of recovery time. For individuals who experience complications, healing can take even longer.
Flu related complications include:
- Ear and sinus infections
- Dehydration requiring an IV
The trickiest part of the flu is its sudden onset. Symptoms can come on and escalate very quickly, which can cause a large spike in unexpected employee absences.
Chronic medical conditions may become worse when contracting the flu, like asthma, diabetes, and heart problems. Pregnant women are also more susceptible to complications due to the flu.
The 2017-18 season was a record breaking flu season when an estimated 48.8 million people got sick and 79,400 people died from the flu and flu-related complications.
The Financial Impacts of the Flu
Bad cases of the flu can take up to two weeks recovery time, which means a lot of missed work days.
For small businesses this can be a major hit, especially when most teams are already maxed out with workloads.
As tough as it can be for fellow colleagues to take on the work of an out-sick employee, it's better than spreading the flu throughout the office by having ill employees come in.
If possible, encourage your team members to stay home when they're sick and work remotely.
Employees often come to work sick, which spreads the virus to their coworkers, creating a domino illness effect. This can cause the flu to go around the office more than necessary, too. Not only does this decrease work output, it will also increase healthcare costs when employees have to activate their insurance to see a doctor.
Between the costs of medicine, urgent care, and hospitalizations for the flu, U.S. businesses get hit with about $10.4 billion in direct costs.
How Employers Can Ready Workers for Flu Season
Cold and flu season can be brutal.
Help employees prepare the best way possible by offering resources and information to get them through flu season this year. Here's a look at a few ways to protect and educate employees:
Host a Flu Shot Clinic
Host a flu shot clinic for employees and their families. You can set it up inside your building. Or, you can create a drive-through flu shot clinic in your company’s parking lot. Have employees pull in, roll down their window, and get a shot before work.
Spread the Word
Flu shots are here as flu season is about to kickoff. Share the dangers of the flu and the benefits of vaccinations. Advertise it well to encourage participation if you do plan to host a flu clinic.
Help Employees Strengthen Their Immune Systems
Bringing a medical doc for a lunch and learn to discuss how to improve immunity. Share the benefits of exercising to improve overall wellness. Keep vitamin C rich foods like oranges in the breakroom for snacking.
With some preparation and education, hopefully your workplace can get through the flu season without much damage.
It’s tough to see employees sick, so share as many resources now with them to help them prepare their bodies and workspaces for the arrival of flu season.
Want the best tips to survive cold and flu season? Check out our free downloadable The Ultimate Cold & Flu Survival Guide to share with employees!