The majority of us don’t pay too much attention to flu season. After all, it happens every year, and we expect it to cause the occasional absence from school or sick day from work. But the influenza virus is actually highly dangerous. The CDC estimates that there is an average of around 30,000 deaths a year from flu in the US.
Along with being bad for the immune system, a flu outbreak can be bad for business. As flu season swings into high gear, there are a number of actions you can take to ensure healthy crisis communications and business continuity during flu season.
How to Know If You Need A Crisis Communications Plan
Employees may risk occupational exposure to influenza exposure. Some jobs require a high level of sustained proximity to groups of people. Employees with very high exposure risk include employees of critical infrastructure and public resources, such as law enforcement officials, emergency responders, public utility employees, and healthcare providers. These services remain critical during a pandemic, so these sectors need to take extra precautions.
Most other employers will have only a moderate risk of exposure, or even a low risk of exposure. However, a lack of continuity planning can result in negative outcomes. For example, you may find you have insufficient resources or employees who aren’t adequately trained for the duties they need to carry out. Because flu outbreaks can cause large-scale disruptions in day-to-day business operations, you need to prepare in advance for these shifting patterns.
In short, during flu season, everyone should have a crisis communications plan.
Steps for Ensuring Flu Season Business Continuity
No matter what sector you’re operating in, you play a critical role in protecting your employees and minimizing the impact of an epidemic or a pandemic. If necessary, you should work with community planners and organizers to align your contingency plans with community-wide planning.
- Start with a baseline of awareness. Now is a good time to educate your employees about flu prevention and symptoms. Influenza vaccines can vary in their effectiveness from year to year, so provide information on vaccine effectiveness, as well as information on where and when to get vaccinated.
- Be generous with sick leave. Don’t encourage employees to “tough it out” by coming to work if they’re expressing flu-like symptoms. Early symptoms can include a cough, a fever, a headache, a sore throat, or a runny nose. Enable them to work from home, or stay home if they need to care for other sick family members. Don’t require employees to have a doctor’s note on hand in order to stay home. Address concerns about pay and sick leave directly. That way, you’ll limit their exposure to the public and to other employees.
- Stockpile sanitation products. Now is the time to be judicious with soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues, and other cleaning supplies. Be aware of product expiration dates and implement a rigorous cleaning schedule. Keep frequently-touched surfaces clean and make trash receptacles available. Also, make sure that educational materials about sanitation and hygiene practices during flu season are available.
- Plan for a reduced workforce. It may not happen, but it’s still important to consider what operations will look like with essential personnel only. You may want to organize and identify a central group of personnel to serve as the communications backbone for your employees and customers. AtHoc enables secure communications across multiple devices, so that once the core communications team sends out an alert, everyone receives them.
- Plan for a worst-case scenario. If an epidemic is triggered in your region or within your organization, you’ll want to have a crisis management plan in place. You can look to public organizations like the CDC and OSHA for guidelines on preparing for a pandemic within your workplace.
- Maintain a cohesive communications system. Implement a system that ensures robust communication. For example, AtHoc Connect ensures interoperable communications, not only within an organization but within an entire community. That means that if statewide alerts and instructions are being communicated, your personnel are receiving them in real-time through your permission-based communication network. When schools or childcare programs close, for example, you’ll ensure that employees receive this information in good time.
- Map out your stakeholders. Ensure that your crisis communications plan supports not only your employees, but also your clients, customers, partners, and the general public.
Even if your workplace is at lower risk for exposure to the influenza virus, you still want to designate a system for communicating important epidemic and pandemic information. Federal, state, and community agencies will be another resource of information in the case of an influenza pandemic. A networked crisis communications system can integrate their directives within your own organizational infrastructure. More information about protecting your employees can be found at AtHoc.com.