How encouraging employees to get flu shots can benefit your company

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Julie Sich, Health Promotions Coordinator, SummaCare, Inc.

How many days of work did your employees miss last year as a result of the flu? And how many more did they cost you when they came to work sick, infecting your other employees?
There’s no getting around the fact that people are going to get sick. But as an employer, you can help your employees make smart choices to improve their odds of staying healthy, says Julie Sich, health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc.
“By encouraging your employees to get flu shots, you can increase the chances of maintaining a healthy work force,” says Sich. “A vaccinated employee population can also reduce the risk of lost productivity as a result of absent employees, or those who are at work but are less productive as a result of being ill.”
Smart Business spoke with Sich about how to encourage your employees to get flu shots and how doing so can benefit both your employees and your business.
What is the impact of the flu on American businesses?
Each year, an average of five to 20 percent of the American population will be infected with the flu virus. More than 200,000 people will be hospitalized annually due to complications from the flu. It’s estimated that the flu is responsible for an average of 200 million days of diminished productivity in the workplace and 75 million missed days of work. The average employer will lose $600 in work value for each employee infected with the flu virus.
Who should be vaccinated?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of six months be vaccinated against the flu, but it is especially important for those at high risk. People at high risk include pregnant women, those 50 years and older, those with chronic medical conditions, those who live or work in nursing homes, and those who live with or care for those at high risk.
Additionally, if company leaders are encouraging employees to be vaccinated, they must lead by example. As an executive, you should be the first to be vaccinated. If you show your employees that you take this seriously, they are more likely to follow your example.
What can employers do to encourage employees to get vaccinated?
Employers can encourage employees to get flu shots by offering incentives such as vouchers or gift cards and also by including flu shots as a covered benefit under your health plan. Employer-subsidized vaccines can also be an incentive, as some employees may be unable or unwilling to pay themselves.
In addition, employers can grant time off without penalty to allow employees to leave work to be vaccinated during their shifts. People are more likely to be vaccinated if  allowed to do so on company time rather than having to go after work or on a weekend. In addition, creating a competition to reward the department with the highest percentage of people immunized can be an effective strategy.
How can an onsite flu vaccine clinic increase the number of participants?
The easier you make it for employees to be vaccinated, the more likely they are to do so. And the cost of hosting the program is small when compared to the time and money that sick employees will cost you annually.
Employers may also want to consider extending the program to family members, as sick spouses and children could cause employees to lose time at work to stay home to care for them.
To arrange an on-site clinic, identify a reliable flu vaccine provider, and schedule the clinic during convenient hours for your employees. The employer needs to provide a private area, but the provider will take care of the paperwork and do the rest.
Providing vaccines is well worth the investment in the savings to the employer in work time. It is also worth the investment because employees who don’t get sick won’t be seeking treatment, which can incur costs to both the employee and to the medical plan.
Being vaccinated is quick, simple and inexpensive. By encouraging your employees to take advantage of a vaccination program, you are not only saving money but also increasing productivity and morale.
How can employers promote the benefits of being vaccinated?
Posters in high-traffic areas can provide information and also act as a reminder to employees who repeatedly pass them. Emails about upcoming clinics in the area can also be effective, as can information included in pay envelopes or through company newsletters.
Beyond encouraging vaccinations, what else can employers do in the workplace to help employees stay healthy?
Encourage employees to wash their hands often, especially after sneezing or coughing, to prevent the transmission of illness. Placing alcohol-based hand sanitizers around the workplace can also encourage employees to wash more often and minimize germs on their hands. If possible, avoid having employees share computer keyboards and telephones. If that is not possible, provide sanitizers and encourage employees to use them liberally.
Discourage employees from touching their faces, as any viruses they touch will be much more easily transmitted through the nose and mouth. And encourage people to use tissues when sneezing or coughing, as the flu virus can easily be transmitted through the air.
Finally, encourage employees who are sick to stay home. Many employees don’t want to use sick days, or feel pressured to come in to work even when they are not well. By creating an environment that encourages workers who are ill to stay home, you can minimize the impact that one sick worker can have on the productivity of an entire office.
Be prepared as we head into flu season.  By encouraging and even providing flu shots, your employees and their families have a better chance of remaining healthy — which is good news for all!
Julie Sich is health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or [email protected]