Small steps to cut the huge cost of cold and flu season

Flu season

With cold and flu season upon us and new data predicting it will cost Australian businesses a staggering $4.6 billion in lost productivity this year, employers can expect almost half of their staff to take sick days.

At least 20 per cent of these workers will take three or more days off, so it’s timely to explore what small-business owners and managers can do to limit the impact of seasonal coughs, colds and viruses on the workplace.

As they say, prevention is better than cure, and many start-ups now offer employee wellness programs that help workers to build and maintain their immunity – the key to staying healthy.

Yes, it does involve some monetary outlay and extra effort, but this is dwarfed by the various costs that mass sick leave can inflict on a business.

When employees call in sick for extended or even short periods, it places stress on their co-workers and managers while creating inconvenience and frustration for customers.

Ultimately, all this eats into a company’s bottom line and its reputation.

Workplace wellness programs can be measures as simple as setting up a green juice bar in the kitchen, keeping a bowl of fresh fruit in the office or stocking the staffroom fridge with immunity boosting consumables such as PERKii, Berocca, coconut water and almond milk.

I’ve also seen great examples where small businesses have incentivized health by using fitness or step tracker apps to challenge employees by rewarding the best performer each month with half a day of leave – much better than coping with weeks of sick days.

You can also instigate, and lead, informal group fitness activities such as a 5km walk or run (the Parkrun program is ideal), hold a walking meeting as you stroll through local parkland or have a team yoga class each week.

There’s strength in numbers so why not negotiate an employee discount at the nearby gym and perhaps offer to reimburse your staff a percentage of the cost.

If matters have moved past the prevention stage, then you need to look at how you manage the situation when staff are sick.

Aside from the inevitable sick days there’s also the problem of team members turning up for work when they are coughing and spluttering – potentially over everyone else in the office.

Market insights commissioned recently by PERKii* reveals that a quarter of Australian workers are guilty of going to work sick, knowing that it’s likely to prolong their illness.

So, practical ways to keep away the germs and the workplace martyrs, include setting up cloud networks so employees coming down with an illness can work from home – Google Drive and Dropbox are cheap solutions for small business.

You could also create an anti-bug hub in the office – an area offering hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and tissues to help keep a lid on the spread of nasties.

While we are never going to eradicate sick leave, it’s empowering to know there are innovative, practical and simple steps that small business leaders can take to help to encourage workplace health and keep their staff on deck this winter.

* Research undertaken by Pure Profile for PERKii Probitoics (May 2017) with a nationally representative sample size of n=1015 Australians aged 18 years and over. Formula for cost on business:

1. Average cost of wages ($78,832) divided by number of work days in 2017 (260) = $303.20 average daily wage

2. Percentage of the number of Australian workers (12,500,000) multiplied by the number of days taken

Jennifer Smallridge, Exercise Physiologist and Office Wellness Coach, PERKii