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Flu season in the workplace

Published 17 January 2017

It is that time of year when employers need to be fully prepared for the flu season which can be bad for business.

Previous research revealed that more than 7.5 million working days were lost in the UK because of flu each year at a cost of more than £1.3 billion to the economy. (1)

Flu and flu-like illnesses account for a high number of sickness absences each year. Flu is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It is different form a cold and has a number of symptoms. (2)

A recent study by the ELAS Group looked at absentee rates from 6 Sept 2015 – 6 Sept 2016 for 5,961 employees across 65 companies and found that 560 employees (9.4%) were absent due to flu, cough or cold.(3)

A quarter of the companies surveyed had an absentee rate of 15% or higher, and one company with 27 employees was particularly affected when 9 employees (33.3%) were absent as a result of flu.

If employees continue to work while having the symptoms they are unlikely to perform at their best, which can impact on productivity. They also run a high risk of passing on the virus to colleagues.

The workplace can be the perfect breeding ground for the contagious virus, which can be caught from airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes and contact with shared objects.

This is coupled with the fact that a research by Yale University also appears to confirm the widely held perception that, although you can catch flu at any time of year, we are more prone to colds and flu in the winter. (4)

Employers can be proactive in attempting to stop the spread of flu in the workplace and there is a range of advice to help, which can be given to employees. The NHS flu prevention guide lists three main ways of preventing flu, which includes the flu vaccination, good hygiene and antiviral medication. (5)


  1. News releases [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 17]. Available from:
  2. Choices NHS. Flu - NHS Choices [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 17]. Available from:
  3. Top Tips For A Healthy Workplace During Flu Season [Internet]. ELAS. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 17]. Available from:
  4. Cold virus replicates better at cooler temperatures [Internet]. Yale News. [cited 2017 Jan 17]. Available from:
  5. Choices NHS. Flu - Prevention - NHS Choices [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 17]. Available from:


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