A study conducted by Queen's University concludes that employees who come to work sick cost employers twice as much in productivity losses than employees who stay home. Taking into consideration both indirect (lost productivity) and direct (doctor visits and medicine) costs of colds, the researchers estimate the annual productivity loss at US$40 billion.
Colds and flu may be more prevalent than you think. The researchers report that
- 1 in 3 Canadian adults have a sore throat, cold or flu in any given month. This is more common in women than men
- 1 in 5 Canadian adults ignore symptoms altogether
- cough/cold remedies are the second most commonly used medications in Canada. We spend $300 million a year on over-the-counter cold and flu treatments and prescription antibiotics which, for the most part, neither "ameliorate symptoms nor change the course of the illnesses."
According to the researchers, "preventative measures that result in even a modest reduction in colds and flu would have a significant impact on reducing costs to the healthcare system and impact on the economy. The study findings are based on a review of more than 80 published clinical trials, studies and research projects representing the work of 300-plus researchers from more than 100 universities and institutions.
Even better than staying at home, take steps to prevent exposure to cold and flu germs. Follow these best practices:
- Wash your hands for at least 15-20 seconds with soap many times a day or use an alcohol-gel hand sanitizer, especially following contact with potentially contaminated surfaces:
- hands or face of others, including handshakes
- doorknob or handle, including appliances
- copier machine buttons or parts
- another person's keyboard or phone
- shared hand or power tools
- food or food container handled by others
- shared books or other office materials
- coffee pot handle
- elevator button
- After washing, turn off the faucet with a paper towel
- Dry your hands with an air dryer or a clean paper towel
- Use a paper towel to open the bathroom door and dispose of paper towel in a trash bin outside of door
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, or rubbing your nose
- Wash out your water bottle daily. Clean shared items such as phones, keyboards, handles and door knobs with alcohol wipes or other sanitizer- type wipes
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold or flu
- Avoid large crowds of people where viruses can spread easily
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue, throw the tissue away, and then wash your hands. Don't have a tissue? Cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand.
Handwashing practices improving, but...
...they could be better. According to "A Survey of Handwashing Behavior (Trended)," conducted in 2010, only 39% of adults wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. While this is an improvement over 2007 (34%) and 2005 (32%), 6 out of 10 people still aren't washing their hands and could be spreading their germs. Among survey participants, men were greater offenders than women.
What employers can do
- Remind workers to wash their hands. In businesses that post hand-washing reminders, reports The Soap and Detergent Association, 72% of employees wash their hands five or more times a day, and 38% wash their hands more than 10 times a day. By posting reminder signs in bathrooms, kitchens and other communal areas, companies can protect worker health and their own bottom line.
- Make it easier for workers to wash their hands. Ensure workers have ready, close access to hand washing and drying facilities.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home. They won't be very productive at work, and could further diminish workplace productivity by passing their illness on to others.
- Set an example. Coming to work while sick yet telling your employees to stay home sends conflicting messages. Which message do you think your employees will remember?
How we can help
Additional resources on Influenza Activity and Surveillance can be found on the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.