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Illness prevention and treatment

February 05, 2016

Sick on the job: 10 ways to stay healthy at work

Is the coughing in the next cubicle making you nervous? As cold and flu season rolls in, here are 10 smart ways to help beat the bugs in your office.

With the annual cold and flu season approaching, it’s hard to stay healthy at work – especially as a steady succession of co-workers shows up sniffling and sneezing.

For many, getting sick inevitably comes as the snow flies. In fact, according to Statistics Canada’s Work absences in 2011 report, in that year our country’s full-time employees lost an average of 7.7 days each due to illness or disability.

But there’s also a lot you can do to beat the bugs at your office in the cold-and-flu season, which may also help boost your spirits during the long winter months.

"If you’ve got a healthy workplace, you tend to have less absenteeism, improved morale... and there’s an association with increased productivity and job satisfaction," says Sandy Bello, a technical specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). She adds that happy, healthy people also manage change and stress better.

If you want to avoid a cold or the flu this season, here are 10 simple tips for staying healthy in your workplace:

  1. Wash your hands every two to three hours, using proper hand-washing techniques. Use lots of soap and hot water, and be sure to rub vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds.
  2. Clean your work station – including desk, keyboard, telephone and anything else you frequently touch – weekly with disinfecting wipes.
  3. Avoid touching commonly shared surfaces such as washroom doorknobs, kitchen counters, or stair railings as much as possible.
  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible.
  5. Take care of yourself by getting lots of rest, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and making an effort to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. All of these activities boost your immune system and allow your body to better fight the germs that cause illness.
  6. If your office and the weather allow it, open your windows to get some fresh air circulating.
  7. Limit your exposure to sick people by avoiding crowds (take the stairs instead of the elevator), shaking hands or hugging, or sharing workspaces. Also, if you start to feel under the weather, be considerate of others by backing away from a co-worker when sneezing or coughing. And be sure to sneeze or cough into a tissue or the crook of your arm.
  8. Be proactive. While some everyday remedies like vitamin C, echinacea or herbal teas can help when taken year-round, if you feel a cough or throat tickle coming on, talk to a pharmacist about what over-the-counter drugs might be appropriate to stop your symptoms fast.
  9. If there are enough people interested, consider organizing an in-office flu shot clinic.
  10. If you’re sick, stay at home or ask to work from home for a few days. The alternative – spreading your illness to others around you – could end up costing your company more than the eight hours you’d miss by staying home.

"If people are not feeling well, there’s no point in their coming into work because they’re less likely to be productive," Bello says.

She also suggests many employers would benefit from having clear policies and procedures in place for those who are sick, as it would go a long way toward encouraging good health.

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