How does a small business deal with flu?

It’s approaching that time of year when everyone seems to get ill at the same time. But how do you deal with flu season as a small business?

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

Every year, from January to March, offices around the country will ring with the phrase “I think there’s something going around” - that’s when you know you are coming into flu season.

But whilst some business owners may dismiss flu as a minor illness, it can be serious, and not just for the person who is suffering. A Co-operative Pharmacy study found that flu costs the UK economy £1.35bn annually in lost working days.

So, as a small business, how do you go about surviving the potential implications of flu season?

  • Planning for unplanned leave

It’s a fact of life that your staff will get ill from time to time, so unplanned absences need to be planned for. What will you need to do if one or more of your staff have to take a day or two off? Will you need cover to support the team? Or can colleagues pick up the slack? If an important member of staff needs to take a few days off sick, will the team have access to their files if needed? Is the person off a key contact for your clients? You will need to consider many different scenarios and think about the potential implications. That way, if the worst does happen, you have a plan in place to minimise the effects.

  • Treat it seriously

In an AXA PPP healthcare study it was found that over 50% of managers did not think that the flu was serious enough to justify time off work. With this line of thought, it is no wonder that employees may feel unsure about calling in sick, or feel that their bosses may accuse them of “pulling a sickie”. If their employers think this way, employees may feel they need to be in the office, even if they are genuinely ill, which can have detrimental effects on your business, including low productivity and spread of the illness. It is important for managers and directors to take illness seriously and support those who may have the flu. It may mean you have to give people a few days off to recover, but by doing so, it could mean you stop sickness becoming a much more serious problem.

  • Encourage communication and spot the early signs

There will always be workers who like to keep things under wraps. Too much work, stress, feeling a little under the weather; they don’t like to show any perceived signs of weakness. However, it’s this kind of attitude that can lead to problems further down the line. One way of combatting this is to encourage and promote good communication within your company. By allowing people the opportunity to open up about any problems they may be having in terms of workload, or if they are starting to feel a little ill, you can put in place measures to try and limit the potential negative effects.

Improved communication will also lead to good working relationships, and with this you may be able to spot any warning signs in terms of ill health early on. Has someone's mood changed over the last few days? Do they seem to be acting differently? Are they showing early signs of illness? If you spot anything you will be able to speak with the employee in private and reassure them that they can come to you about problems they may have.

  • Flexible working

If an employee is starting to show signs of illness, you don’t really want them in the office where they may be able to spread it to other members of the team. But if they don’t feel ill enough to warrant taking a sick day off, it can be a difficult situation to judge. That is where flexible working can help. If possible, you should give the option for employees to work from home for a day or two. That way, they can recover, there's a reduced chance of spreading any illness around the workplace and you don't lose too much in terms of work or productivity.

  • Preventative measures

The best way to deal with any potential illness is to prevent as much as possible. Does your company offer the flu jab to the employees? Do you provide antibacterial hand gels? Is the soap in the toilets always stocked up? Have you educated your employees on the seriousness of the flu and what they should do if they feel the oncoming symptoms? It may seem like time and effort to put all these in place on your part, but it will all pay off in comparison to having to deal with the impact of sickness absence.


Are you worried about the impact sick leave can have on your business? See how BrightHR can help you manage sickness more effectively by requesting your free demo today.