Leading Your Employee Wellness Plan

Bart Keeler

19 March 2020

The real threat of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing organizations, from large corporations to small nonprofits, everywhere to evaluate how they work and how they protect their workplaces from infectious diseases. While an outbreak like this is unprecedented in our modern world, the spread of germs is nothing new: We still face attacks on our immune systems every day, particularly during cold and flu season.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 7, 2019, it is estimated up to 3.7 million cases of the flu hit the United States, according to the CDC. As we know, viral infections have greatly increased since then, including COVID-19. According to the CDC, this flu season has grown to produce up to 51 million cases—6.4 percent of the U.S. population. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty swirling around about coronavirus and where uncertainty lies, fear breeds. As a leader, it’s your job to settle fears and provide your employees with a feeling of safety. You can accomplish this by showing them you’re serious about protecting their health. 

No matter where you work, if you’re interacting with people during the day, you’re at risk of sharing germs and contracting infectious diseases. While individuals should take steps to protect themselves against COVID-19 and all the viruses that circulate annually, your workplace can take the burden of wellness on to make sure every employee stays healthy, and to protect well employees from sick employees. 

Take Stock and Order Up

“If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” Will Smith once proclaimed about finding his success. But this is very true for battling sickness and keeping your employees healthy. Having a stocked closet of cleaning and sanitary items will ensure your workplace is ready to fight the viruses flying around during cold and flu season. Given the bulk purchasing surrounding COVID-19, it may be harder to buy extra supplies for the time being, but keep the following in mind as a general practice for the future. 

Before this season hits each year, take a look at your normal usage of common combatants of disease (such as hand soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and/or wipes). If you track inventory each month, check the numbers through October and April and compare them to the warmer months. There’s probably an uptick in usage. Account for this by increasing how much of each you purchase each month (maybe one more hand soap bottle or another case of paper towels), or consider adding certain items to your hygiene purchases (disinfectant items). 

Here are three items you’ll especially need during cold and flu season:

  • Soap: There’s no need to switch to antibacterial soap unless you want to, according to the FDA, but definitely make sure you have soap stocked in your restrooms. You don’t want to run out during cold and flu season!
  • Paper Towels: Not only are paper towels more likely to remove bacteria from your hands than air dryers, they can also be used to clean surfaces or as a safeguard to open doors. 
  • Surface Cleaning Sprays: The best way to create a sanitary work station is by using surface cleaners. Note that scrubbing surfaces will do more to prevent the spread of disease. However, disinfectant wipes are effective for sanitizing things we touch frequently (i.e. phones, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.).

Have a Remote Working Plan

The best way to prevent the spread of disease is to decrease contact with other people. That’s obviously hard if you work in an office, travel for work or frequent crowded public places. When sickness hits, you need to have a plan for employees to remain productive while shielding them from illness. This may not be limited to the employee, as many parents may have to stay home with a sick child. With the digital technologies available to companies today, it’s foolish to count out employees who need to stay home due to illness. 

Leaders need to encourage their employees to stay home if they’re feeling unwell. For starters, it protects co-workers from catching the same germs but, additionally, it relieves the guilt of taking time off if the person is potentially contagious but feels well enough to work. However, leaders need to communicate clear standards for employees working from home. There’s a big difference between setting up shop at the kitchen table and “working” from your bed.

The most important standard is that employees electing to work from home must be productive. If they’re unable to complete their daily tasks, then they need to take time off. It’s not an easy situation to handle, but this is where trust is vital. You must trust your employees, but it’s still OK to ask how they are doing. In fact, increased communication among a remote team is a must to build and maintain trust. A project management software or system is vital to keeping up with remote employees, but also for remote employees to feel empowered to perform their functions well. 

Another important tool to empower your employees to work from home is a video conferencing app. Not only does this help the remote employees feel more connected to the team when a meeting is conducted, it is also a useful external communication tool. 

For employees whose jobs depend on face-to-face relations, staying home from work is probably harder. Sales and business development reps who travel to meet clients may be reluctant to take off because canceling meetings may result in loss of income for them. 

The last thing you want is for a sales rep to pass on germs to an important customer and strain a relationship. Giving them an alternate way to meet with customers can not only keep them healthy but allow them to maintain important relationships. In fact, it might be easier to get a client to agree to a video call than a face-to-face meeting, according to Tom Keiser, chief information officer of Zendesk.

Video conferencing is a must for any company in the digital age but, as a leader, you can empower your team to use it to its full potential.

Keep Yourself Healthy

Probably the most obvious way to keep your team healthy is to keep yourself healthy. Though we all know the typical ways to charge our immune systems (plenty of sleep, water and exercise), there are a couple of lesser-known ways to protect yourself from sickness.

  1. Decrease caffeine intake. If you’re constantly drinking coffee, soda or other caffeinated beverages throughout the day, you’re increasing anxiety and hindering your endocrine (hormone) system from producing cortisol efficiently. These decrease immune system function.
  2. Keep your workstation clean. Wipe down your surfaces and keep hand sanitizer close by so you can kill germs that linger in the air and on surfaces. 
  3. Move during the day. Inactivity stresses the immune system, so take a load off it! Try to stand up and move at least once an hour. Perhaps take a walk when you hit that 3 p.m. lull in your day.
  4. Lead by example. If you’re encouraging your team to stay home when they feel unwell, you should do the same. 

Although we are experiencing an unprecedented pandemic, the fact is our immune systems are attacked every year during the fall, winter and early spring. As a leader, practicing some empathy in regard to employee health and wellness will keep your company moving forward. During high-risk disease season, work-from-home days will not only reduce stress (thereby increasing productivity), it can reduce downtime on your team by enabling employees to be productive while sick. You can fight sickness in the workplace on several fronts to help your employees thrive for your organization.

Bart Keeler

Bart Keeler is a content marketer, blogger and podcaster who discusses leadership, workplace culture and sports. He is also editor of The Smoking Musket, a West Virginia Mountaineers community. A retired athlete, Bart draws on his competitive background to connect find the driving force behind leadership icons. Bart lives in Atlanta and is an avid fan of all Atlanta sports teams, as well as his WVU Mountaineers.

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