Strike A Blow Against Presenteeism Costs: Do an On-Site Flu Vaccination Program

August 24, 2017

Presenteeism costs are murder on businesses. Recent studies indicate that presenteeism – the result of employees coming in to work when they are sick or distracted and therefore less productive – costs employers as much as 10 times that of absenteeism. And when it comes to presenteeism as a result of a debilitating and highly contagious condition like the flu, costs are magnified as other employees get sick and wind up either taking vacation days or coming to work sick – costing employers thanks to reduced productivity and effectiveness, and further endangering other employees, customers and the public.

If a worker is sick with the flu, employers will pay the cost one way or the other: Either via paid sick days, or via reduced employee effectiveness due to illness. On average, a lost day of productivity costs employers about $200. That cost goes up where the labor force is relatively skilled or where margins are high.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population gets infected with the flu virus each year. Further, the flu causes Americans to lose 111 million work days and racks up $7 billion in lost productivity costs to employers.  That’s not including presenteeism costs which are likely much higher.

61 percent of all those hospitalized with the flu are between ages 18 and 64. Each case of the flu results in an average of between 1.5 and 5 days off work.

Meanwhile, the direct costs of influenza due to hospitalization, treatment and prescription drugs amount to another $34 billion per year. That much money shows up in health care utilization numbers in health plans and ultimately drives up business health insurance premiums.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have recommended employers implement a mitigation/prevention plan to help them survive a pandemic situation: If a business is struggling or is on narrow margins, the sudden loss of a significant number of valuable employees for days or weeks at a time – it can put a business under.

Worse, severe flu cases can put employees under – as well as families and loved ones who are children, elderly or who have weakened or compromised immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control actually recommend everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine unless they have specific health conditions that may make the flu vaccine dangerous for them. However, if enough other people around them get the flu vaccine, even those who cannot receive the vaccine because of medical reasons benefit from the herd immunity effect, and any large scale immunization effort can help blunt the effects of a flu epidemic.

If you have an on-site health clinic or nurse’s office, the logistics are simple. If you do not, it is easy to contract with a pharmacy or health services provider to have a mobile immunization team come to your workplace.

Influenza vaccination lowers the risk of needing medical treatment for all ages by about 60 percent.

Schedule it this summer. August and September are the optimum months for an influenza vaccine effort. It takes the vaccine a couple of weeks to provide its full beneficial immunological effect, and a late summer vaccination ensures your employees’ immune systems are at their strongest before the colder weather comes in, bringing flu season with it.

Communicate. The most important piece is to educate employees about the importance of getting vaccinated. Promote your workplace immunization in advance, using multiple media. Reach out to your employees via email, direct mail, payroll stuffers and signage and meetings. The Centers for Disease Control provide resources to help aid you in your communications effort here. 

Leverage the event to achieve other wellness objectives. An immunization event is a great time to kick off a new benefit or wellness program, and to enroll new beneficiaries. It’s also a good time to engage in an educational event in which you can boost awareness of your existing employee benefits – and help employees make the most of your benefits package and perceive the real value of your total compensation package.

Be proactive. Simply encouraging employees to go get flu shots on their own is not sufficient and will not produce satisfactory participation.

Lead by example. Have the CEO lead the way by being first in line to receive the flu shot. Repeat the process at each location: The senior person at each site should be the first person to receive the shot.

If you have an on-site health clinic or nurse’s office, the logistics are simple. If you do not, it is easy to contract with a pharmacy or health services provider to have a mobile immunization team come to your workplace.

But leading by example doesn’t stop there. Smart leaders also work on creating a corporate culture that encourages workers not to try to ‘fight through’ illness at work. When managers are obviously coming to work sick, it leads to the perception of an unspoken expectation that everyone else should do the same thing. This is a perversion of the work ethic and can cost companies significantly.

Make sure your sick leave/PTO policies are reasonable, well communicated, and that your employees use them. It’s better to pay a few PTO days now than to have many days of poor productivity and have to pay PTO/sick days for many employees later because workers are infecting each other.

Small companies can issue vouchers. Onsite vaccination vendors typically have a minimum number of vaccinations you must order to make it worth their while to come to your work site – 30-50 is common. If you are a smaller company, or if you have employees at remote locations, you may be able to provide a voucher to employees to get a free or reduced-price vaccine at major pharmacies convenient to them.

If you have employees without health insurance, they may be able to qualify for a free flu vaccine from Walgreens or other major pharmacies.

Issue hand sanitizer. Investing in a small bottle of hand sanitizer for every desk or work station can go a long way towards prevention. Workers use them if they’re in view.

Have surgical masks on hand. If someone gets ill at work, or if someone must be at work for whatever reason, hand them a surgical mask until they can go home where they belong.

Clean commonly touched workspaces. Office staff should regularly clean and disinfect food prep areas, desktops, table tops, restroom areas and doorknobs. If you don’t have janitorial staff, then the whole office is the janitorial staff.

For further reading, see this guide from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Centers for Disease Control also have made additional resources available for employers here.