Strategies to Keep Your Workplace Healthy

Despite your best efforts, you and your employees will get sick from time to time. It’s a normal-but-unfortunate part of being human. Not only does illness have a serious impact on health, but sick employees can also be costly for your business. 

In the United States, it’s thought that businesses lose $153 billion in productivity each year due to poor employee health and sickness. More recent research suggests that productivity losses due to employee illness may actually be much higher, resulting in over one billion missed days of work and costing businesses upwards of $500 billion. On top of these losses, poor health and sickness are simply unpleasant for your employees to experience — and for you and company leadership to deal with.

You may not be able to prevent illness in the workplace entirely, but there are several ways you can try to mitigate the spread of sickness in your business. Taking a proactive stance against illness at work will help protect everyone’s health and reduce some of the negative effects poor health can have on your business. Here’s what you can do to promote employee health while simultaneously protecting your organization:

1. Create Sanitizer Stations

Create stations stocked with hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and other useful cleaning products throughout your workspace. Though not as effective as proper handwashing, sanitizing products still eliminate germs and prevent the spread of illness. Research indicates that strategically placing alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the workplace reduced the number of healthcare claims related to preventable infections and improved employees’ hand hygiene knowledge. 

To enjoy these benefits, make these stations as accessible as possible so employees can easily grab the supplies they need to keep themselves and their workspace clean. Place sanitizing stations by frequently-touched places and items, such as doorknobs and communal office supplies. Also, encourage employees to sanitize their desks and regularly wipe down “hotspot” areas, including their phones, keyboards, and mouse. 

Make sure you replenish the sanitizing stations when supplies begin to run low. Depending on the frequency of use, you may need to restock daily, every few days, or weekly. Don’t forget to sanitize the sanitizing station to keep it clean and further reduce the spread of germs.

2. Encourage Hand Washing

Sanitizing is useful, but a growing body of research claims that hand washing is more effective in preventing the spread of illness than alcohol-based sanitizers. Even if you don’t work with food, it’s crucial for everyone in your workplace to wash their hands correctly. Try to follow the guidelines for handwashing outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Wash your hands under running water;
  • Wet your hands, then apply soap;
  • Lather the soap in your hands;
  • Rub your hands together, with soap, for at least 20 seconds;
  • When rubbing, clean the backs of your hands, your palms, in between your fingers, underneath your fingernails, and your wrists;
  • Rinse the soap from your hands and wrists;
  • Use a towel, or let your hands air dry.

You should wash your hands after going to the restroom and before eating or handling food, as well as any time your hands are visibly dirty.

Try posting these handwashing guidelines throughout the office, particularly by sinks in the bathroom and kitchen, to remind employees to do it properly. Additionally, any time you do health or safety training, you may want to demonstrate proper handwashing techniques to ensure everyone is on the same page.

3. Provide Regular Cleaning

Though sanitizing and hand washing are helpful, you should still make sure your workspace is deeply cleaned on a regular basis. In many instances, it’s best to look into professional commercial cleaning services, as they have the equipment and knowledge needed to clean and sanitize office spaces more thoroughly. 

Simple tasks such as vacuuming and mopping are important, but that’s not enough to fight the spread of illness. Look for someone who also offers virus remediation and control services to ensure your workplace isn’t just clean, but disinfected and fully sanitized. Make sure the provider you pick can accommodate any specific requests or cleaning needs you have for your workspace. 

The frequency of cleanings will depend heavily on your needs and wants. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to hire a cleaner who is prepared to fight infectious diseases. This also means you may want to sanitize and disinfect your workplace more frequently, depending on the level of risk associated with your business.  A trustworthy and reliable service provider will work with you to build a cleaning schedule that works for both of you.

4. Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home

At some point or another, one of your employees will get sick. When they do, encourage them to stay home until they are no longer ill. If employees stay at home for the duration of their sickness, they will avoid spreading their illness to your other employees and clients, as well as their family members or households. 

One survey found that as many as 90% of full-time employees will, on occasion, go to work while they’re sick. However, offering paid sick time is one of the most effective ways to get employees to stay home while they’re ill. With paid sick time, employees don’t have to worry about their illness reducing their paycheck or impacting their livelihood. Rather than working through their sickness and infecting others, they can simply take the time they need to get better.

In lieu of — or in addition to — paid sick time, you can also offer flexible time or remote work options for ill employees. Working from home while sick allows employees to get their work done without using any sick time or spreading their illness to other employees or customers. Providing remote work options is one of the best ways you can support your business amid the ongoing pandemic or any future outbreaks, as it allows sick employees to continue working and protects other employees from being exposed to infectious disease.

5. Support Remote Workers

If you are able to offer remote work or work-from-home options, make sure you are ready to support those workers too. Keep in mind that remote workers have very different physical and mental health needs than in-office employees. Encourage employees who are working from home to:

  • Move throughout the workday;
  • Get outside for a walk or otherwise leave the house;
  • Disconnect fully from work while they’re off the clock;
  • Connect with their coworkers, either over text-based chat or video calls, about non-work topics;
  • Maintain a regular schedule and routine, similar to when they worked in-office;
  • Create a designated workspace at home.

Some employees may struggle to make the transition to remote work and they will need your help to get used to it. Do your best to understand some of the challenges associated with remote work and be ready to help your employees overcome them.

6. Promote Healthy Lifestyles

Lifestyle is thought to have a major impact on overall health and wellbeing. Factors such as your diet and level of physical activity can affect both short- and long-term health. 

As an employer, you don’t have direct control over these factors, but you can do your best to promote healthy lifestyle decisions in the workplace. You can try:

  • Providing nutritious snacks and drinks, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, tea, and water;
  • Allowing employees to engage in exercise throughout the day, such as taking walks or stretching during breaks;
  • Using standing desks instead of traditional ones;
  • Hosting wellness competitions or contests, such as hourly workouts or daily meditation milestones, with incentives or prizes;
  • Offering gym memberships or benefits.

You should try any activities or strategies that would resonate with your employees, as each organization is different. However, virtually all employees spend most of their time at work, and if it’s easier to make healthy choices at the office, it may be easier for them to make other lifestyle shifts.

7. Avoid Overcrowding Employees

When it comes to your office layout, try to give your employees some space. When employees are in close proximity to each other, it’s far easier for illness to spread from person to person. One study discovered that employees who share an office or work in an open-plan office were more likely to miss work due to illness than workers in separate offices. Though more space between employees is not guaranteed to stop a bug from tearing through the office, it may help slow the spread enough to prevent everyone from getting sick all at once.

What’s more, a crowded office may have negative effects on your employees’ mental wellbeing and ability to be productive. Open-plan offices can result in more distractions, causing a dip in employee performance, and even raise employees’ stress levels. Employees in open-plan offices also report feeling physical discomforts, such as poor air quality and skin irritation; even if open-plan offices do not actually cause these issues, employees may believe they do so. Additionally, employees who do not work in open offices are more likely to feel satisfied at work.

You may not be able to create a designated office space for each employee, but do your best to be thoughtful about your office layout. Consider how you can give employees some space and privacy, given the confines of your workspace. Providing remote work options can help with overcrowding, as can alternative work areas in the office, such as a designated quiet room or more relaxed area with couches and comfortable chairs.

8. Add Plants

Keeping plants in the workplace is a simple way to tend to your employees’ mental health. A growing body of research has found that having plants in the workplace may:

Place different plants around the workplace so employees can enjoy their benefits. You may even want to give each of your employees a small plant for their desks. Just make sure you choose plants that are easy to care for and require little light, so they’re able to survive in an office environment.

9. Encourage Vaccines

Encourage your employees to get the flu shot each year, and to stay up-to-date on their other vaccinations. You may not be able to require employees to get vaccinated, but you can promote the myriad personal and societal benefits of vaccination throughout the workplace.

To do so, you can direct employees to places where they can get vaccinated, explain how or if vaccines are covered by their health insurance, or offer paid time off to get a flu shot or vaccine. You could even host a flu shot clinic at the office each fall and award a prize or small perk to employees who participate. 

Vaccinations are particularly important for protecting older employees in their 60s or even 70s. It’s thought that the immune system weakens with age, leaving seniors more susceptible to infectious diseases. It may also take them longer to recover from an illness if they do get sick. Encouraging all employees to get properly vaccinated will help protect this group, as well as other employees who may be immunocompromised or otherwise at-risk.

10. Educate Employees

Finally, make sure your employees actually know all of this information and are familiar with how they can stay healthy. Educate them on best practices they can follow both in and out of the office. Emphasize the importance of adhering to those best practices to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. It’s a group effort, but if you, your employees, and their family members all work together, you can better protect the overall health of everyone in your workplace.