Get Flu Shots?
A nationwide study of more than 1,000 businesses undertaken by the Harvard School of Public Health, sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ((CDC), finds that two-thirds report normal operations could not be sustained if half their workers were absent for more than two weeks. Severe problems are anticipated by four out of five companies if half their employees are absent for a month. Robert Blendon, profesor of health policy and director of this survey, reports "What we have found is that a minority of businesses have started some sort of emergency planning ... Most, I don't think, have thought through the implications of something so widespread." Most worrisome, he also notes that businesses designated "critical" by the Department of Homeland Security, including those in energy, finance and the food supply chain, exhibit the same lack of planning as non-essential businesses.
Researchers find that many people are contagious for a week or more after symptoms appear and that coughing is often a better indicator of contagiousness than fever. Contact with other people is to be avoided for at least a day after the disappearance of fever; especially at home where spreading the germ has the highest risk, longer periods of care may be warranted. Dr. Gaston De Serres, a scientist at the Institute of Public Health in Quebec, advises "You're probably contagious for about a week."
General hygiene is to be emphasized with all employees. Frequent hand washing with soap and water or use of an alcohol-based hand cleaner is to be facilitated, especially after coughing or sneezing. Employers should have hand washing stations and alcohol-based hand sanitizers available liberally throughout the workplace. Communal surfaces in the workplace, e.g., countertops, doorknobs and workstations, are to be cleaned frequently
Employers should consider alternative work arrangements, e.g., telecommuting for workers who may be at higher risk for contracting the disease or suffering more serious effects. The influenza virus is particularly severe for pregnant women, young people and those with existing health problems, including diabetes, asthma and chronic heart disease.
During periods when the common cold and flu (viral influenza) appear to be epidemic, the economic sufferings of smaller employers can be extreme. Is there an immunization available to protect the owner/manager of the emerging business and the entrepreneur against this malady? Indeed, there are remedies to alleviate some of the harsher effects of this kind of absenteeism.
Communication. First and not to be dismissed as an euphemism, good communication is the first line of defense in the smaller or emerging business. The owner/manager can maintain a working environment in which employees can discuss impending health problems openly. The onset of many illnesses is accompanied by early warning signals at least a day or two in advance.The employee should feel comfortable advising his/her boss of an impending health problem and of the possibility of being absent. In the employers best interests, an employee should be encouraged to take time off early, thereby precluding the possibility of a longer absence due to an illness becoming more serious. And employees who are ill should be discouraged from coming to work in their own interests, in the interests of fellow employees, and in the interests of the business. An employee should never sense disapproval when legitimate sickness requires an absence; this only encourages deception and last-minute surprises. A healthy working environment encourages healthy relationships, communication, and employees. Most commonly, this results in earlier warnings of anticipated absences.
Cross-training. Every business should assiduously strive to cross-train all employees. Ideally, this means not just occasionally showing employees how to perform the work of others, but the systematic rotation of employees through the different jobs within the business insofar as this is practicable. Indispensability means vulnerability. Cross-training not only offers some protection against the ravages of absenteeism, but it offers an environment in which workers can grow and be better evaluated. Their contributions to the enterprise can be enhanced significantly. Cross-training is usually a win-win case.
Re-Prioritize. The problems associated with absenteeism frequently arise because of inflexibility. Faced with the absence of a key employee for a few days or a few weeks, everybody's work commitments should be re-examined realistically. Often some commitments can be easily re-scheduled, and the skills and time thereby freed can be devoted to meeting the commitments of the absent employee that may be more urgent.
Customer accommodation. Upon discussing the circumstances as early as possible with customers who may be affected by the absence of a key employee, they may frequently be willing and even eager to re-schedule their requirements until the employee can return to work. This is particularly likely when the characteristics or uniqueness of the employee's work is known and valued by the customer. Rather than approaching the customer apologetically, this "problem" many times strengthens our relationships with the customer.
Contract staffing services. Originally known as "temp agencies," contract staffing is now a mature service industry offering pre-qualified workers for just about any job. A number of smaller and emerging companies now make a prudent practice of always having one or two contract persons in their workforce. Thus, they have an established relationship with a contract staffing service and then receive priority attention when an emergency arises. Of course, many emerging businesses have been able to meet these emergency needs through an informal network of friends and/or family members. It is essential to know where we can turn in confidence before the inevitable needs for replacement workers are encountered.
Budgeting. Loss of time and productivity due to sickness is unavoidable in any activity. Therefore, it is essential that adequate funds be budgeted for this eventuality so that employee illnesses are not accompanied with financial shivers.
Every emerging business is precarious. But is there an immunization available to protect the owner/manager of the emerging business and the entrepreneur against the common cold and flu? Forethought is the potent pill. As the seasoned sailor is fully equipped and prepared for the most adverse weather, assiduous planning can equip and prepare the emerging business to cope with the disruptions of employee sickness. Storms as well as sickness are a part of the world in which we live and work.
Brookline, Massachusetts 02446.2822, USA
Revised: September 15, 2023 TAF
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