By Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Let's face it – office buildings are germ factories, especially during cold and flu season. Even with an employee flu prevention program that provides vaccines and education, sickness can spread through an office at lightning speed. Not surprisingly, the Staples 2016 Flu Survey found that office buildings are more contagious than hospitals and that 73 percent of employees have caught a cold at work. Lots of people in close quarters answering each other's phones, using the same bathrooms and sharing computer equipment means that germs can quickly spread through an office. The study also found that 80 percent of employees still go to work when they are sick, adding to the spread of germs.
While no one wants to be sick, absenteeism is also a costly business problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses due to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion, or $1,685 for each employee. As a facilities manager, your job is to keep the building operating as smoothly as possible. During the winter months, that means you're on germ patrol.
Here are five ways that you can help prevent the spread of cold and flu germs at your office building.
1. Provide Hand Sanitizer at Building Entrances
In addition to posting signage reminding employees to prevent the spread of germs, such as the free downloadable posters from the CDC, take prevention a step further by actually providing hand sanitizer. Put a large sign with a hand sanitizer station at key entrances to help keep germs from employees' sick families out of the office. Since people often become immune to signs they see every day, consider changing the message every week with interesting and very descriptive facts about the spread of colds and flu to encourage good hygiene.
2. Use Smart Technology to Ensure Soap and Paper Towels Are Always Stocked
Employees cannot wash their hands if the soap and paper towel dispensers are empty. Facility Executive magazine recommends using restroom equipment with sensors designed to track supply levels. You can set the products to notify a custodian when it's time for a refill. Not only does this decrease the spread of germs, but it reduces labor costs in the long term.
3. Focus on Air Quality
Airborne disease spreads via bacteria and viruses traveling on dust particles, or on respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Facility Executive magazine recommends taking a two-pronged approach to air quality: using green cleaning techniques to reduce air pollution and also cleaning the air. Instead of putting a HEPA air filter in the HVAC system, use a commercial-grade, standalone air purification system.
4. Increase Vacuuming and Cleaning During an Epidemic
Your cleaning staff may not vacuum every night. Since germs can spread through carpets, rugs and floor mats, consider increasing the cleaning schedule to daily when many employees are out sick. By monitoring the CDC flu reportings, you can also begin prevention when the flu is in your area to hopefully avert an outbreak at your office before it ever starts.
5. Pay Attention to Your Own Health
As the facilities manager, you spend your days interacting with staff from all departments. This means that if you're under the weather, you have a greater chance of spreading your germs to multiple people than an employee who works with only a handful of other people. If you're under the weather, avoid shaking hands with employees or touching common areas, such as desks. And follow the same advice you tell the rest of the office: If you're sick, stay home.
By making employee flu prevention one of your top priorities, you can help cut down on absences and lost productivity. And hopefully, you will even stay well yourself.