When temperatures start to fall, more and more people find themselves sick with cold and flu. Over 1.5 million workdays are lost every year to the dreaded aches, runny nose and fever.It's likely you'll have employees come to work even while battling their symptoms.

Many businesses experience a steep increase in the number of staff calling in sick as winter approached. Or worse they start sharing the viral love with workmates by coming into work while still contagious. Its little wonder productivity plummets in the cooler months.

Employees take an average of five days off to recover from colds and flu. In total, it’s estimated the flu accounts for 1.5 million lost workdays every year, over 300,000 doctor visits, 18,000 hospitalisations and cost the economy over $34 billion in 2018.

Since the start of the season this year, more than 10,000 people have been diagnosed with the flu in NSW. Almost three times more than the same period last year.

Prepare your workplace and stop the spread of germs

There are a number of steps you can take to prevent the spread of cold and flu in your workplace. 

Provide basic flu education and supplies

Promote basic hygiene practices at work to your employees, like the importance of frequent hand washing and the correct way to cover coughs and sneezes. Distribute this information to employees regularly and post information in common areas including the kitchen and bathroom.

Set out pump dispensers of hand sanitizer in common areas or places your employees frequently pass through. And provide plenty of tissues, as well as bins for disposing of them. Make sure your employee restrooms are well stocked with hand soap.

Clean and disinfect your office frequently

Treat common areas and shared workspaces the way gyms treat exercise equipment – clean them frequently throughout the day. Wipe down doorknobs, copier buttons, point-of-sale devices, elevator buttons, stair railings and vending machine buttons frequently.

And don’t forget about computer keyboards! Provide disinfecting wipes your employees can use to wipe down their keyboards regularly.

Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine

Employees often skip getting vaccinated because they’re too busy and avoid making doctor’s appointments

Consider funding a workplace vaccination program yourself or offer a list of local service providers employees can visit during the work day. The best defence against the flu spreading is a vaccinated workforce.

Let employees work from home

Gathering in confined spaces (such as offices) with poor air circulation promotes the spread of the flu virus. If you already have employees who can work remotely, encouraging them to do so is a smart way to help keep everyone healthy.

You should also send sick employees home when they start showing symptoms. The sooner the employee can rest, the sooner they’re back to work. 

Make a business continuity plan

For small business with only a few employees, a bad case of the flu that spreads through the group can effectively put your company out of business for the duration of the illness.

Create a plan for how you’ll keep your company up and running when key people are out sick, so you won’t let your customers down.

Next steps

For more information about the flu and how to prevent it, visit NSW Health.