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    Preparing your business for swine flu and other illnesses

    on 29 September 2009

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    Posted by Rob Hallums

    With a suspected second wave of swine flu just around the corner, many businesses could be left struggling to cope with staff shortages. Last month, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warned that absence rates could hit up to 50% over the coming months, with swine flu being one of the main contributors.

    What can you do to prepare for staff shortages?

    1) Identify staff with interchangeable skills.

    In the first instance, why not make sure that everybody is covered and knows what other people are doing. This could be from a simple point of view such that everybody knows what each others' customers are doing (maybe using a simple CRM to keep everybody up to date) or ensuring that key projects are not left to a single person.

    2) Prepare your staff to work longer than normal hours

    When employees are absent and others are left to pick up the pieces, you have to make sure your employees are adequately prepared to work slightly longer than normal hours. However, do make sure that they still have adequate rest breaks and ensure that it does not become standard. Offering time in lieu is always a great encouragement.

    3) Education

    Ensuring that your employees can recognise the first signs of any contagious illness is imperative. This is the time that they should be staying at home, not grinning and bearing it. Also, maybe supply each employee with a simple hand cleanser so that if they sneeze, they can wash... when they use public transport they can clean their hands. It's very simple, very cost effective and could save your business substantial time and money.

    4) Facilitate working from anywhere

    Before we start to encourage people to work from home, as an employer just make sure that you've set up the facilities to make it happen. Whether that's setting up a VPN or providing an online suite of tools with some kind of document management and contact database, it's going to really help your business and not cost the earth.

    5) Encourage homeworking

    It's inevitable that some employees are going to fall ill over the coming months (and beyond). One of the biggest fears from the employers point of view is that employees will take advantage of home working by relaxing a little more. However, studies have shown that the opposite is true and employees actually focus more and work slightly longer hours than normal - just to prove that they are working. Combine this with the instruction not to enter the work place if you feel unwell and your business could actually benefit. Not least because any contagious germs are kept well away from the work place.

    6) Offer health advice

    Try promoting an environment where workers who feel unwell are not afraid to inform their employer and go home until they are well. One of the biggest problems is that a business will always have martyrs. However, this is not good for anybody, so by telling people it's ok to go home should help combat this - especially combined with a home working philosophy.