- Nearly 40% of respondents to a recent Walgreens survey admitted to coming to work with the flu. Of the 1,200 respondents, 10% said they had attended social gatherings while sick. The survey cites statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which describe the 2017-2018 flu season as one of the most severe and the earliest to arrive in the country.
- Other key survey results showed that 88% of those who had the flu were more worried about germs and contamination. More than 40% of seniors said they stayed home and avoided public gatherings to avoid getting sick.
- Generation-based survey results showed that 54% of Americans, including 66% of millennials ages 25-34, plan to get a flu vaccination earlier this year than they previously have. Among senior respondents (65+) who plan to get an earlier flu shot, 83% said it's better to protect against the flu earlier. Forty percent of respondents said that the severity of this season's flu will be the same as last year's, while 12% said it will be worse and 30% said they don't know.
Employers that want to maintain a safe and healthy workplace will need to take a proactive approach to the flu. Last year, businesses lost out on $9 billion in productivity due to the flu, according to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The CDC puts the annual cost of direct medical services for the flu even higher, at $10.4 billion.
Workplaces are ripe for the spread of contagious diseases like influenza because of the sharing of spaces and devices. As the Walgreens' survey showed, many respondents wisely plan to get vaccinated and to do so early to protect themselves and lower the risk of spreading infection. The survey also showed, however, that sick employees are willing to put their co-workers at risk by coming into the office when they have flu symptoms. In response, employers can implement policies that encourage workers to stay home while ill.
Employers looking to get ahead of the flu's impact can encourage workers and their families to get vaccinated each year, as recommended by the CDC. They can offer vaccinations on-site, if possible, and ask employees to avoid spreading infection by remaining home if they become ill. Employers can also expand wellbeing programs to include information on the benefits of getting annual flu shots; the CDC says that only 20% of workers get vaccinated.
Flu policies, however, must generally stop short of requiring employees to get flu shots without exception. Outside of certain industries, employees are challenging such workplace mandates based on religious objections, with some success.