How the “Tripledemic” is Making this Flu Season One of the Most Serious We’ve Seen

Returning to the office will make this flu season worse. Most companies are finally walking back Covid work-from-home policies and slowly shifting employees back into physical… Trista - December 7, 2022
Returning to the office could escalate the severity of this flu season. Source: Healthline

Returning to the office will make this flu season worse.

Most companies are finally walking back Covid work-from-home policies and slowly shifting employees back into physical offices. Health officials predict that the flu virus will also return to the workplace, which might be worse than the cold workers are used to catching in the office pre-pandemic. For all the same reasons that schools are likely incubators of the flu, the workplace is no different, with the added complication of relaxed health and safety protocols, such as the absence of masking and poor vaccination uptake, adding to the recipe for a catastrophic flu season in the making.

Many workers face challenging positions amid a flu season bound to create disruptions. The resurgence of other viruses that have lain dormant as Sars-Cov 2 went on a 2-year rampage around the world is wreaking havoc in the healthcare system. Not only do families and individuals have to combat the flu. They also have to watch out for Covid, RSV, the common cold, pneumonia, and other illnesses that share similarities with influenza, making it difficult to spot and treat accordingly. Sometimes, these illnesses seem to come one after the other without so much as a break in between. It leads to absences, drops in productivity, and problems with childcare for workers with family members who are also sick.

Many organizations are ordering workers to return to the office. Source: The Telegraph UK

Working from home is no longer an option.

An early uptick in the number of flu cases has many workers feeling particularly vulnerable. Why? Because they try to keep themselves safe from contracting a viral illness amid the pressure of finally returning to the office. However, the chances of picking up a bug have skyrocketed in recent weeks. According to a Gartner survey of 240 HR leaders, 36% of have called workers back to the office at least three days a week beginning September. That figure is up 25% from the previous month. Caroline Walsh, a Gartner VP, says this continues to be the trend despite their data not showing remote work harming performance or culture.

Fears of a looming recession may also compound the pressure to return to the office. That is especially true amid high inflation and a volatile stock market. Amid such a bleak economic backdrop, workers may feel like they have no choice but to come to work sick or risk losing their jobs as companies push for greater productivity to ride out an unstable market through to the end of the year. These circumstances look to erase the gains made in the workplace since the pandemic rewrote the rules for calling in sick. While Covid 19 finally made it okay to prioritize health over productivity, returning to pre-pandemic practices doesn’t mean we have to go back to the misguided heroics of fighting through sickness to work. To prevent this flu season from being one of the worst in recent years, workers’ health should be the priority.

Coming to work sick could exacerbate an already lousy flu season. Source: BBC

Working while sick shouldn’t be the norm!

For one, working while sick is actually counterproductive. If showing up to work means the job assigned to you gets done, being present at the office at a reduced capacity doesn’t guarantee that the work is up to standard. You won’t have to do it again. Substandard work equals less productivity. Furthermore, physical presence does not always mean productivity. Not only does sickness affect levels of quality, but it also lengthens recovery time, keeping workers from coming back healthy in as little time as possible. If bosses force employees to fight through their sickness, the time they could’ve used to rest and recover exacerbates their illness even more.

Not to mention that showing up to work at a time when flu cases are at an all-time high. A long list of viral illnesses is circulating in the environment is, at best irresponsible and, at worst, downright selfish, with little regard for the welfare of others. We never know what our colleagues are going through health wise. You don’t know if they or their loved ones are immunocompromised. Plus, you don’t know if they go home to families who could be particularly vulnerable to diseases. By exposing ourselves to the workplace in such a condition, we are putting more than our coworkers at risk. Plus, we are putting the lives of their loved ones on the line.

Managers should encourage paid time off amid a severe flu season. Source: Business News Daily

Please, let workers use their PTOs.

Leaders also have a vital role in ensuring that their workforce remains healthy and productive. Providing a meaningful amount of paid sick leave should be a top priority. That goes double as we enter an awful flu season. The potential for contracting illnesses in the workplace or bringing viruses in and spreading them around is at an all-time high. However, paid time off is considered a luxury. In fact, 1 in 5 employees don’t have access to it. That is especially true for those considered low-wage workers. For those who do have this benefit, managers should encourage their subordinates to use those PTOs. Knowing that their managers are supportive of their health allows workers to focus on recovery without fear of losing their jobs due to absences.

Another way managers can take the lead in preventing significant loss in productivity due to illness is to take time off themselves. As leaders, they set the expectations for good self-care in the workplace. They must show workers that you aren’t invincible yourself. Plus, you should know when to pull back will permit everyone else to do the same. Good managers know that productivity is all about keeping workers at peak performance. If that means allowing everyone, including themselves, to take a day or two off to recover, everyone in the office will be all the better.

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