The media is rife with stories about the impending flu season. Infectious disease experts caution that a full-fledged pandemic is only a matter of time. Short of encouraging your employees to get a flu shot, what, if anything should your business do to prepare for such an outbreak?
The Better Business Bureau suggests that smart employers are already anticipating how to minimize disruptions to operations should a flu “crisis” arise. Businesses are advised to consider the following in preparing for a flu outbreak.
- Staffing levels. Some experts predict that 40 percent of the workforce could be incapacitated during a pandemic. Ways to cope might include cross-training employees now to cover for absent co-workers; putting in place a succession plan for key employees; creating telecommuting plans to permit employees to work from home; revisiting sick leave/absentee policies so infected employees do not feel compelled to come to work; lining up temporary staffing providers; planning for staggered work schedules; and, deciding where to relocate operations should an entire office or geographic area fall sick.
- Essential business functions. What essential functions must be performed to keep your business in operation? Can they be performed off-site? What is your contingency plan to get needed services and supplies from vendors if shortages arise? How would you modify the delivery of products or services if your area is quarantined? Stock up on essential business supplies now, as they may be difficult to obtain during a pandemic.
- Health/hygiene issues. Provide incentives for your employees and their family members to get flu shots. Encourage basic hygiene among your workforce (post hand-washing reminders, distribute hand sanitizers, ramp up office cleaning and disinfecting of telephones and copier machines, etc). If your business is dependent on on-site employees, you might want to stock up on protective gear, such as plastic gloves and ventilator masks.
- Communicating in a crisis. Do you have up-to-date home contact information for all employees? Establish a “telephone tree” that illustrates which personnel are responsible for calling employees to provide updates. Do your key employees have passwords/codes to access the company computer network from home? Add a flu section to your Intranet to provide regular health-related alerts to your employees and keep them updated on business operations should a pandemic strike.