4 ways to help employees avoid spreading illness

What should employers be doing to avoid the spread of illness in the workplace?

Of course, some illness is inevitable, but there are some things you can do as an employer to help keep your staff healthy and prevent illness from spreading.


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How can you control the spread of infection in the workplace?

A quarter of all sick days in the UK are due to so-called minor illnesses, so avoiding their spread should be paramount for all employers.

1. Encourage employees to stay home when ill

Nearly three quarters of those surveyed in the CIPD Absence Management Report say they have observed ‘presenteeism’, that is, people coming into work when they are unwell. While on the face of it this might seem admirable, it’s really anything but. Having an employee come into the office full of a cold could mean the difference between one employee off ill and a whole chunk of the workforce being taken down by a bug.

This is because any common workplace illnesses are caused by viruses and so can easily spread from one person to another.

As anyone who has dragged themselves into work when they shouldn’t have knows, being at work when you’re unwell is no fun at all. Being preoccupied with nasal sprays and gargling salt water isn’t exactly conducive to getting work done, so it’s no surprise research has found that presenteeism can cut productivity by one-third.

If your workplace currently struggles with presenteeism you will need to undo this culture. Something as simple as an office wide email explaining your ‘stay at home if ill’ policy could go a long way towards rectifying this issue. You should recognise that for many illnesses there is a 48 hour window before an employee is ready to return to work. This is the case for illnesses like diarrhoea and vomiting. Make sure employees know that they should stay at home while they fall in this window. You might also like to consider allowing staff who are infectious – but feel up to working – to work remotely from home. It’s important you make sure this isn’t conveyed in such a way that would make ill employees feel obliged to work though.


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2. Promote a healthy lifestyle

Exercise and a healthy diet can really make a difference to staying healthy all year long. You can encourage staff to achieve this by ensuring they have the time for exercise, whether that’s by implementing strict finish times or integrating exercise into work by introducing a lunchtime walking group. For more tips see our article on helping employees fit exercise into the working day.

You could help nudge staff towards making healthier dietary choices by swapping out office biscuits for fresh fruit, or perhaps consider having an independent expert come in to discuss the benefits of diet and exercise. You could also organise employee health assessments which can help identify potential health risks early, as well as highlighting any actions they can take to stop health concerns becoming more serious. Find out more about Benenden’s Health Assessments for Business.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is an excellent investment for any employer. Employees who exhibit health conscious lifestyles usually have a more robust immune system. Therefore, they tend to have less susceptibility to illness.

3. Offer annual flu jabs

If your employees are concerned about getting the flu, the flu vaccine is the easiest way to ensure they avoid it.

By offering employees the flu vaccine you are also helping to stop the spread of the virus. Many people with flu show no symptoms, meaning people who feel fit and healthy can unwittingly infect vulnerable patients. Vaccination is the best way to help stop this and therefore help ease pressures that a heavy flu outbreak would place on NHS services such as doctors’ surgeries and busy hospital wards. In our blog, you can learn more about office flu vaccination programmes

4. Practice good office hygiene

Good hygiene is paramount in deterring the spread of all infections. 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch, so handwashing is incredibly important at reducing the number of germs spread between people. You could reiterate the importance of this to your employees if they want to avoid getting ill.

Hand sanitiser can also help curb the spread of germs via touch. You might install hand sanitiser in your office toilets or provide staff with bottles to keep on their desks.

You might also want to consider supplying boxes of tissues in case an employee starts sneezing at work. Used tissues must be disposed of as soon as possible though, so make sure there are plenty of bins around the office.

Lastly, make sure your workplace is cleaned regularly. This means both surfaces like desks and kitchen countertops, as well as often used but overlooked objects such as door handles and laptops.


How to wash your hands 

Washing your hands is a vital part of infection control. The World Health Organisation recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds. This helps to thoroughly clean them. Good technique can help you prevent the spread of illness, to yourself, loved ones and colleagues. Make sure to pass this information on to your colleagues and employees.

1. Wet hands

Wet your hands with warm water, then apply enough liquid soap to create a lather. If you don’t have access to liquid soap, you could also use bar soap (if your bar of soap has been sat in sludge, rinse it off beforehand).

2. Rub hands together

Use one hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean between your fingers. Repeat this on the other hand.

Rub your hands together, palm-to palm, and clean between your fingers again.

3. Interlink your fingers

Link your fingers together, facing each other, into clasped hands. It should look like you’ve made a hammock with your hands. Rub your palms and fingers together.

4. Cup your fingers

Rub the back of your fingers against your palm. Repeat this on the other hand.

5. Thumbs and fingertips

Make a fist around one of your thumbs and rub as you rotate it, then swap hands and repeat.

Rub your fingertips on the palm of your other hand. Make sure to do this on both sides.

6. Rinse and dry

Thoroughly rinse your hands with warm running water. If your taps are automatic, use them as instructed. If not, you can use a disposable paper towel to turn off the tap.

Paper towels are the most hygienic way to dry your hands. If you’re somewhere with an automatic hand dryer, these can also be a good option. This is because you don’t have to touch many automatic hand dryers to use them, decreasing the risk of transferring bacteria. That could risk transferring bacteria from the dryer back onto your hands.  Where possible, don’t use a reusable towel to dry your hands. They can harbour bacteria.

Good handwashing should take 20 seconds. The NHS recommends singing Happy Birthday twice to help you to keep track of the time. Any 20 second song would work here, so you can pick a song that makes your smile.

To have a bigger impact in tackling illness in your workplace, it could be worth adding some of these strategies into your health and wellbeing plan. For more information on developing a successful workplace wellbeing plan, including how to win buy-in, you can download our free, 50+ page health and wellbeing strategy guide.

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