It's that time of the year: Call it winter, flu season, or both, but no matter how you refer to it, now's the time when an increasing number of your valued employees are likely to call out sick -- or, worse yet, come to work sick.

Neither scenario is ideal. With the former, you're losing out on manpower and output while your workers take time at home to recover, and in the latter, you're dealing with impaired workers with limited productivity who have the potential to infect the rest of your office, thereby leading to an internal epidemic of sorts and resulting in -- you guessed it -- more sick days.

But while you can't always prevent employees of yours from catching germs or infecting others unknowingly (which often happens when workers come to the office feeling a bit under the weather, not realizing they're harboring a virus that's both debilitating and contagious), you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of losing workers to sick days. Unfortunately, many businesses don't make that effort, and so lose out on worker productivity during the heart of winter.

Man and woman at laptops blowing their noses into tissues.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Businesses are doing their workers -- and themselves -- a disservice

First, let's get the most egregious offense on employers' part out of the way: Only 53% of companies offer workers sick leave, according to a new survey from Staples Business Advantage. Thus, they're causing ill workers to push themselves to come to work to avoid losing pay, all the while putting their remaining staff at risk. Furthermore, just 51% of companies provide cleaning services for common areas and bathrooms. That's unsanitary in general, but particularly dangerous when the flu is at its peak.

Along these lines, only 47% of companies put out tissues in the office, while just 43% provide antiviral cleaning supplies. Talk about encouraging the spread of germs rather than preventing it.

Clearly, companies on a whole could be doing a better job of keeping workers healthy. If your company has been falling down in that arena, consider this your wake-up call to do better. For one thing, make it possible for workers who fall ill to take the time they need to get better. That means offering ample sick days or, at the very least, giving employees the flexibility to work from home when they're under the weather, but perhaps technically well enough to do their jobs.

Furthermore, take steps to make your workplace more hygienic. Keep soap and disinfectant spray well stocked, and make sure common areas are cleaned regularly. And for the love of dust mites, spring for a solid supply of tissues -- not just for those potential flu-driven sneezes but also for year-round allergies, colds, and the like.

Finally, help your workers ward off viruses like the flu by bringing in healthcare professionals to administer vaccines in your office. Though the flu vaccine doesn't always prevent the flu, it's been known to lessen the likelihood of catching it or reduce its severity once contracted.

The easier you make it for your workers to take care of their health and recuperate from illnesses, the more output you'll get from them. It's that simple. So if you're not eager to make changes for your employees' sake, do it for the sake of improving your staff's overall productivity.

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