Let’s get real for a moment. Have you ever received the dreaded call that informs you someone in your family has the flu? Well, it just happened to me and I started thinking about how quickly the cold and flu virus can spread, especially in the workplace.

Just think. Did you make a pot of coffee in the break room or cafeteria today? Did you use the salt and pepper shakers to add some flavor to your lunch? Chances are, many of your co-workers' hands have been on them before yours. And what about the vending machine—did you get a snack from it after it was used by someone who had just sneezed into their hand and wiped it off on their pants? With so many shared items, it's easy to become the victim of a nasty bug that can spread throughout your office or factory floor like wildfire—especially at this time of year.

Cold and Flu Virus

The cold and flu virus doesn’t just lurk on surfaces; they also hover in the air where they can be breathed in. It's so easy to spread that, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), winter flu epidemics affect 300,000 to 600,000 people each year. And we're especially susceptible to colds during the winter months. Since our nasal passages are drier during the winter time (because of the dry air), cold viruses have an easier time taking hold and making us sick than they do during the spring and summer months.



The only way to guaranteed way to prevent such an epidemic from spreading throughout the workplace would involve living in a germ-free bubble or in complete solitude. Thankfully, there are other, easier ways to kick the winter cold to the curb.


Cleaning frequently is one way to cut down on the number of cold and flu germs that are passed from one worker to another. Encouraging workers to do keep the workplace clean might require posting a sign that reads “Your mother doesn’t work here. Clean up after yourself.” and having a few extra bottles of disinfecting wipes handy. That will work to combat the common cold but the pesky flu is a little harder to fight.

Put on your armor and hold up your shield. Follow these five helpful tips to keep your workplaces healthy during this cold and flu season!

1. Stock Up on Bottles of Hand Wash and Hand Sanitizer

Okay, this one is probably the obvious, right? Many say that hand washing is the single best thing anyone can do to keep themselves safe during the flu season. Wash your hands continuously throughout the day. And take your time; it's not a race to see who can wash their hands more quickly. The CDC recommends creating a nice lather and then scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Remind your employees and coworkers to wash their hands before leaving the bathroom and before eating in the cafeteria or break room. Place hand wash signs, labels, and posters around your workplace. Keep bottles of extra hand sanitizer readily available for all workers so they can quickly and conveniently kill 99% of many common germs and bacteria off their hands.

2. Clean, Daily

Most workers spend more productive hours at work than they do at home on any given weekday. Since you spend so much time at work, you'll encounter many opportunities for contamination while on the job. So make sure that your workplace is cleaned frequently—especially surfaces used in common, like the time clock, door knobs, microwave ovens, and coffee markers. Make cleaning a priority. Kill germs and bacteria that grow on surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectants and create a safer, healthy workplace.

As for your personal workspace, clean and dust once a day. Cleaning your workplace greatly reduces the chances of cold and flu viruses attacking you and making you sick. Not to mention the fact that studies show a clean workplace encourages productivity.

Tried to encourage daily cleaning with limited success? Try something new: use humor to motivate cleanliness in a fun way.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Studies show that sleep plays a vital role in your overall physical health (learn also about Sleep Deprivation and Worker Safety). During sleep, your body repairs blood vessels and without quality sleep, your body is subject stressors that can make you sick. When you get plenty of rest, eat a balanced meal, and exercise, you’re giving your body exactly what it needs to fight off infections.

Motivate your workers to eat right and exercise with programs like the Biggest Loser Challenge or by providing healthy snacks. Create visual Site-Boards™ so everyone can stay on track and hold each other accountable.

4. Stay Away from Contagious Workers

When you hear someone "achoo," just say "God bless you" and walk away. The purpose of a sneeze is to expel mucus containing foreign particles, which means a sneeze can be triggered by the common cold or flu. Be on the lookout for symptoms and avoid coming into close contact or shaking hands with those who are ill with a cold or flu.

5. Create a Contagious Illness Policy

Encourage workers and colleagues to stay home when they’re sick with temporary illnesses, such as influenza, colds, and other viruses. Create an illness policy that suggests that workers must be able to perform normal job duties and meet regular performance standards. When workers make the decision to work through a contagious sickness (we’ve all done this, unfortunately), they risk spreading the sickness throughout the entire workplace and lowering the company's performance rate.

If you're sick, it's important to get some rest, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter medications or seek medical advice (see Drink Up: How to Stay Hydrated and Prevent Hydration for more information). Coming into work is the last thing you or your co-workers need; take care of yourself and avoid spreading your germs to others.

Summary

The cold and flu season can be a real drag on productivity but the solution isn't to ignore it and wait for it to go away. Following these health and hygiene tips will help you be proactive about fighting off the cold and flu viruses and creating a healthy working environment at your company this winter.