Employee absenteeism is one of the major drains on organizational performance, with the flu costing U.S. businesses over $10.4b a year alone. In Britain, it is estimated that workers take almost double the number of sick days than the U.S., according to research by professional services firm, PwC.

Richard Phelps, HR consulting partner at PwC said, “With sickness accounting for the lion’s share of absence, the question for employers is what can be done to improve health, morale and motivation.”

While some of this can be attributed to employees taking “sickies” – days off taken despite being well and able to come to work – it can also be attributed to greater rates of illness. Sickness generally accounts for around 80% of absence, which also includes jury service and compassionate leave:

“You need clear policies in place to make it less appealing for people to take unwarranted leave, while protecting those people with genuine illness,” added Phelps.

In many circumstances, illness is picked up from the workplace, with members of staff passing on germs as a result of being in close proximity to their colleagues. 

To reduce the likelihood of contamination, your workplace can take a number of steps to prevent illness from spreading:

Step One: Identify sources of germs

Most cold and flu symptoms are passed directly from person-to-person through coughs and sneezes, which become air borne and inhaled. They can also be passed from hands to objects like telephones, computer mice, equipment and machinery handles, photocopy machines, door handles or desks.

Step Two: Reduce the spread of germs

You can stop germs from spreading by making staff more responsible for their daily behaviour. As a general rule, ask staff to wash their hands after using the toilet, smoking or eating, using an antibacterial soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Staff with colds should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, as this will increase the spread of germs. They should also cough or sneeze into tissue paper, covering their nose and mouth, before cleaning their hands.

Encourage your employees to clean their desks and personal items with disinfection wipes, particularly if they have recently been unwell.

Step Three: Clean areas which house bacteria


Workplace kitchens are a hive for bacteria so ensure that staff clean up after themselves when preparing food. Ensure that chopping boards, surfaces and utensils are washed with hot water and washing up liquid, particularly if they have been used for raw meats or fish.

Leftover food should be covered and put in the fridge, which should be monitored and cleaned out regularly; any leading brand of general purpose cleaner can be effective here – sites like stock a broad range of high-quality equipment.


Toilets are another hive for bacteria and staff should be encouraged to keep them clean and tidy. Your cleaner should wash the floor and bowl with a disinfectant or general purpose cleaner, but also encourage staff to clean up their drips and spills and wash their hands after each visit.

You can visit for a full range of high-quality cleaning products.

Step Four: Encourage sick staff to go home

Encourage staff with viruses to go home; having one member of staff off sick for two days is better than three members of staff being away for a total of six days.

If staff insist on working, let them work from home; otherwise encourage them to think carefully about how they interact with other team members, so to avoid cross-contamination.

Step Five: Encourage staff to practise healthy habits

Staff can avoid picking up viruses by leading healthy lifestyles, which means:

  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Keeping physically active
  • Eating a balanced diet with a multivitamin
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water
  • Doing meditation or yoga
  • Drinking minimal alcohol or caffeine

Workplaces are shared environments, which mean responsibility for your wellbeing is collective too; encourage staff to keep your environment clean and germ-free and you will benefit from lower absenteeism and higher organizational productivity.

Author: Kate Southgate