Winter is quickly approaching and while many of us are excitedly looking towards the upcoming weeks full of celebrations, family, merriment and perhaps too many sweets, a more dangerous season has been spreading throughout the country. Flu season generally peaks between December and February, although it can start as early as October and last until May. In addition to the flu, other viruses, such as rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus, also become more prevalent during this time. In 2012 the CDC released a report which indicated that healthcare, real estate, and education workers were the most often hospitalized group due to influenza- like illnesses. As a group, U.S. employees miss approximately 17 million workdays due to flu, which costs roughly $7 billion in sick days and loss of productivity per year. While receiving the vaccine does not guarantee that you will not get the flu, it can reduce the risk of being infected by 40% - 60% according to recent studies. The CDC recommends that the most effective time to get the flu vaccination is before the end of October.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that healthcare workers receive an annual flu vaccine, however, some employers are making that recommendation a requirement for their workers (, although they are required to allow for medical and religious exemptions). This comes as no surprise as the 2018-2019 flu season resulted in the death of over 80,000 Americans, a staggering number especially considering the second deadliest season was in 2012-2013 that caused an estimated 56,000 deaths. During the 2017-2018 season, 92% of health care personnel working in a hospital received the flu vaccination. A large portion of this is likely due to employers who had a requirement for HCPs to receive the vaccination or had strong recommendations alongside offering vaccination at the worksite. Within organizations that provided no requirement or provisions to receive the flu vaccination, such as offering on-site cost-free options, only 48% received the vaccination.
Noticing the symptoms
Presenteeism, the problem of employees who are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition, spikes for healthcare workers during the flu season. The American Journal of Infection control reports that more than 40% of health care personnel with influenza like symptoms continued to work while feeling ill.
A few of the most commonly cited reasons for continuing to show up to work were “I have a professional obligation to my coworkers,” “It is difficult to find someone to cover for me,” and “I could not afford to lose the pay”
If shift swapping was made to be easy and simple for employees and their managers to set up and approve, more employees would be able to take the sick time that they need to recover. Employees who continue to work despite having symptoms of the flu pose a risk to others, most significantly to children and the elderly who are often in the hospital to receive care for other health concerns.
What's the best medicine for your flu-season presenteeism?
Given the data discussed, it is important for employers to provide resources and education around the efficacy of the flu vaccination as well as the impact that working while sick can have on patients and colleagues. Employees should be empowered to take time off when needed by making it simple for employees and their managers. While here at Kronos we can’t assist with delivering flu vaccinations, Kronos does offer Workforce Scheduler for Healthcare which provides real time visibility to employees and managers, whether they are logged into a desktop system or on the go on our mobile platform. Kronos scheduling solutions allow employers to quickly rebalance staff levels based on unit coverage and workload demand and can fill open shifts efficiently through prioritized call lists via automated text, email, or voice messages.
Preventing the spread of viruses at the workplace can be a daunting task, but providing employees with the tools and knowledge they need could help prevent presenteeism and help keep working environments clean.