This year’s flu season has been spreading rapidly and employers are starting to feel it. The flu has claimed a record number of lives and sick days. Estimates are putting costs for employers at nearly $10 billion. According to the CDC, cost estimates for lost productivity stand at $7 billion with other expenses arising from sick leaves raising the bill to $9.4 billion.
The massive outbreak of flu across the country has been more intense compared to yesteryears. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the outbreak has been made worse by the dreaded H3N2, an aggressive strain of influenza that hasn’t been very well-matched by locally available vaccines.
Dr. Fauci says that although there is a vaccine for the H3N2, it isn’t as effective as earlier thought. He told Fox Business that the average efficacy rate for the vaccine this year could be as little as 30%. The aggressive strain is far stronger and resistant compared to other strains. It could take a normal adult up to four sick days to recover. This is relatively a long time compared to other strains, and this translates to lost productivity. When you take into account that in some severe cases loved ones might be forced to stay at home and care for the sick, the toll on employers could get even higher.
The CDC is urging employers who are already dealing with infected workers to let them stay at home until they are fully recovered. The highly infectious and aggressive H3N2 strain is spreading rapidly. The idea to “tough it out” at the workplace and ride the flu until it’s gone can lead to other infections. This would add to the costs that employers are already incurring as a result of productivity loss.
Americans have been encouraged to get vaccinated with the H3N2 vaccine. Dr. Fauci argues that even though the vaccine’s efficiency has a very low rate, it’s still better than doing nothing at all. The peak of the flu season is expected to hit in February. It is advisable for employers to gather information about this and get ready as early as possible.
There are also a few tips that employers can take to reduce the spread. First of all, they must increase the number of shifts in order to reduce the total number of employees working in the office at a given time. Large gatherings at work should also be avoided unless they are necessary. Embracing telecommuting can also be a great way to reduce infections.
Employees need to know who among their staff can easily work from home. These people should be allowed to do so to avoid new infections. Sick workers need to stay at home until they are fully healed without any pressure. If there are employees who already have sick children, flexible leave policies can be enacted to allow them to take care of the kids while still maintaining some level of productivity at work. No-touch trash bins should also be integrated into the workplace.