Flu: Should you provide the flu jab for your employees?

As summer draws to a close, thoughts fall on autumn and winter and all they entail: cosy nights in but colder weather and the spectre of flu season.

The NHS recommends vaccination as the best way to reduce the risk of catching flu.

Why offering your employees the flu vaccine benefits everyone

An employer-funded vaccination programme can be an effective way to help improve your employees’ chances of staying healthy. Here we tackle some common concerns, misconceptions and FAQs surrounding flu and vaccination.

How serious is the flu?

While perceived by some to be no worse than a heavy cold, influenza can be severe and even dangerous. The UK government estimates that an average of 8,000 sufferers die from the virus in the UK each year. Those most at risk from the serious consequences of flu are older people, young children, pregnant women, and individuals suffering from long-term health conditions, particularly chronic respiratory conditions. Many people who fit these descriptions could be in your workplace and offering a vaccination programme can help to protect them from a serious health risk.

What is the difference between flu and coronavirus?

There are many similarities between flu, coronavirus (COVID-19) and even the common cold. Each symptom can also manifest itself differently, with stronger or milder symptoms depending on the individual.

The three key symptoms of coronavirus are a fever, a dry cough or shortness of breath and the loss of taste or smell. If symptoms come on very suddenly, this is more common in flu and if you’re sneezing a lot this is more often seen in the common cold. However, we would suggest taking a COVID-19 test if you exhibit any of the key three symptoms, even if you think it might be something else.

Will the flu jab protect my employees from coronavirus?

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a vaccine available against coronavirus (although extensive trials are being undertaken worldwide). Therefore, the seasonal flu jab does not protect against coronavirus.

However, it’s still a vital vaccine and helps the nation to limit the effect and spread of those strains of flu causing the most medical issues. Flu has a massive impact on the NHS every year. Anything we can do to reduce this strain can make a difference, including allowing more NHS staff focus their attention on supporting patients with COVID-19.

How long does it take to recover from flu?

A typical case of flu can take between one to two weeks to recover from fully, even in an otherwise healthy person. This absenteeism – while for wholly valid reasons –could cost your business between £875-£1,751 per employee*.

What should I do if an employee has the flu?

If an employee is unwell, it’s important to emphasise that they can stay at home in order to recover. This is particularly important as flu is highly contagious for 5-7 days after an individual first exhibits symptoms. An individual can even be contagious the day before symptoms present themselves. Presenteeism could risk the rest of your team falling ill. A workplace culture that reinforces the work-life balance is one where employees will have the confidence to take the time they need. For more information on how to achieve this balance, read our guide.

Can vaccinations be dangerous?

Safety is crucial and there are some who view vaccination as an unnecessary risk. The NHS explain that “vaccines have to be thoroughly tested for safety before they're made routinely available” and that “each vaccine’s safety is continually monitored” to ensure its continued safe use. All vaccines do have the potential to cause side effects – such as mild fever, fatigue or allergic reactions in some cases – that could potentially lead to absences. However, even mild side effects such as those listed above are uncommon and when they do occur they only last a few days. Despite myths to the contrary, serious side effects are rare.

It is also important to note that, contrary to common misconceptions, the flu vaccination does not give you the flu but rather improves your body’s ability to recognise those particular flu strains and therefore develop resistance against them.

Is the vaccine always effective?

The flu vaccination will help to reduce employees’ risk from catching flu, however a vaccinated individual could potentially still contract flu. Some reasons for this are:

  • The fortnight window – It can take 10 - 14 days for the vaccine to take full effect. If someone is introduced to the virus in this brief window, they could still contract flu

  • Mismatched viruses – The World Health Organisation works every year to identify the viruses most likely to cause flu in a given year and recommend that these viruses are immunised against. This means, however, that there could potentially be strains of flu virus that the vaccine cannot protect against

  • Another illness – It can also be possible to mistake flu-like symptoms for flu, when it could be another winter illness. The vaccination only protects against influenza virus

Additionally, while a vaccinated individual could potentially contract flu, it’s likely to be milder and their recovery time shorter than it would have been otherwise.

What are the main benefits of a vaccination programme?

While there are many benefits to a successful vaccination programme, some key ones are:

  • Increased employee health and wellbeing – According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the old maxim holds true: prevention is better than cure when it comes to health

  • Reduced absencesPersonnel Today suggests that, in the UK, widespread adoption of flu vaccination could save “up to £28.9 million in averted sick day costs”

  • Improved productivity – Many employees have said that they feel pressure to return to work before they have fully recovered from illness. This leads to tired, run-down members of staff who are unable to perform at their best. Corporate vaccination programmes resolve this issue at its source, by preventing an employee from falling ill in the first place

  • Showing employees that you care – The Rewards and Benefits Association found that workplace healthcare initiatives go a long way to attracting top talent. They can also ensure existing staff remain engaged and positive towards the business, by showing staff that you care for their wellbeing

Are there any other ways to help employees avoid flu and other winter illnesses?

As vaccinations are not 100% effective and other seasonal illnesses abound, it can be useful to have additional systems in place to help keep employees healthy. Some key steps to promote employee wellbeing include:

  • Promoting good office hygiene – Good hand washing techniques, hand sanitiser and other cleaning efforts can greatly improve employee health – as 80% of infectious viruses are spread by touch

  • Encouraging general good health and wellbeing – Remaining active and eating healthily can be difficult for some in winter months but it can have positive health outcomes for employees

  • Supporting employees in staying at home when they’re ill – If employees feel pressured to return to work before they’re fully recovered, you can risk the infection spreading even further and increased absences in the future

Employer-paid vaccination schemes help to protect employees from illness, promoting a positive environment with a dedication to health and wellbeing. Even if all employees don’t or cannot take up the vaccination, the team will benefit from improved levels of immunity overall. Additionally, helping your employees to stay fit and healthy prevents them from passing on illnesses to their loved ones – circumventing absences spent caring for relatives.

Helping employees feel their best, physically and emotionally, should be a top priority and a way to ensure that this winter is by offering flu jabs to staff. Benenden Health encourages employers to take a proactive approach to managing employee health. 

To discover how Benenden Health could support your business with our health and wellbeing services please call 0800 414 8179 or visit our Business Healthcare page.

*Calculation based on the 2017 ONS average salary of £29,009, with 252 working days (with 20 days holiday), and between 1-2 weeks sick days per employee.