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Keep communications healthy during flu season

A little preventive medicine could go a long way in keeping your business healthy in the months ahead.

The White House predicts that 20 to 40 percent of all Americans may develop H1N1 flu (also inaccurately referred to as swine flu) this season, and that 30,000 to 90,000 could die from it. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a more conservative prognosis, it does expect H1N1 to hit more communities in the coming season than in the spring/summer 2009 outbreak.  

Since even relatively limited occurrences of H1N1 (or any kind of flu) could negatively impact your business, there are many things you can do now to ensure employees are educated about the flu and know what to do in case a serious outbreak occurs.

Create a crisis management plan.

Nobody knows what to expect, so it is important to plan for a variety of scenarios, ranging from calm to epidemic. Make sure employees are aware of the plan, its  triggers and response mechanisms. A number of agencies have issued guidance on how employers  should prepare for the H1N1 threat, including the CDC.

Communicate with your employees now.

Initial communications should include general information  for employees on flu symptoms, guidance on prevention and timing, and availability of vaccinations.  Local public health officials also may issue guidance.

Review and communicate the company’s sick-leave policies.

Monitor absenteeism rates and be  aware of any unusual changes. Additionally, remind employees of the organization’s sick-leave policies,  as well as any adjustments you may make for the upcoming flu season. The CDC says companies shouldn’t require employees to furnish a doctor’s note since doctors’ offices may not be in a position to respond  in a timely manner. An important message for your employees may be, “If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t  be a hero by coming to work, as you may infect your fellow employees and make matters worse.”

Identify key personnel, assign backups and offer telecommuting options where practical.  

Give managers the authority to take action as needed. Identify employees who may be at higher risk.  Local officials may make decisions to close schools and childcare programs, which will impact your  employees’ ability to be at the office.  Plan now to ensure your employees can work from home, if  necessary. Determine what you will do if there is significant absenteeism or if key personnel are impacted.

Design ways for employees to stay informed about the flu in real time. 

Offer an inbound FAQ (frequently asked questions) line with CDC content and specifics about its plans. The CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are working together to provide consumers and partners with social media tools.

Like the flu, misinformation can spread fast in a crisis situation.  With a little preventive medicine in the form of advance planning and communications, you can build up your company’s resistance and help employees prepare for whatever occurs.

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