You don’t need us to tell you: flu season has officially arrived here in the US. And just like any other uninvited guest, it can be difficult to kick this clinger to the curb! Avoiding getting sick at work should be considered a job skill in and of itself—one that requires extra effort when the flu virus starts circulating your poorly ventilated office while stress and deadlines have already done a number on your sleep hygiene, causing those immunity levels to take a hit.
Unfortunately, you can’t always control who stays home sick and who (inadvisably) shows up anyway. Although you may have to sit next to sneezing colleagues or handle meetings with coughing clients, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to fall victim to the latest office illness.
While the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, maintaining healthy habits and employing a few easy preventative steps can help stop the spread of germs. Below, five tips to avoid catching the flu at work, and what to do if it’s too late.
1. Wash your hands
Hand hygiene is key when it comes to flu prevention! Regular hand washing with soap and warm water is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself from exposure to invisible office germs. Keep hand sanitizer at your desk for emergency backup, and try your best to avoid touching hot spots like doorknobs, handrails, fridge handles, or other common space areas.
2. Avoid touching your face
We know… it’s tempting! But this is one habit worth breaking. Germs are often spread when a person touches their eyes, nose or mouth after unknowingly touching something contaminated. If you must touch your face for whatever reason—yep, this includes snacking—be sure to always wash up beforehand.
3. Keep your distance
Airborne germs spread through coughing and sneezing are the #1 way the flu virus gets spread. That said, do yourself a favor and avoid close contact with contagious colleagues. If a sick co-worker who refuses to stay home starts inching a little too close for comfort, don’t be afraid to vocalize your needs and kindly request that they give you some additional space. Better safe than sorry! Your coworkers will likely understand and be happy to join the precautionary cause.
4. Keep your workspace sanitized
Keep the tissues and antibacterial wipes handy… and don’t be afraid to use them. Wipe down your personal workspace (desk, computer, armrests, etc.) at least once a day to remove germs, and take extra care to disinfect anything that gets remotely close to your mouth (looking at you, cell phone).
5. Practice other good health habits
Now is not the time to start slacking on self-care. Now more than ever it’s important to prioritize plenty of sleep, meditate and manage stress, eat nutrient-rich foods, take those vitamins, brush your teeth, and engage in healthy exercise. Take your workouts light and easy if that’s what your body is needing, but be sure to maintain some kind of regular exercise.
Eeep it’s too late… now what?
If you begin feeling sick while at work, go home as soon as possible. No really… stay home. We get it, you’re dedicated and want to show your boss how much you care. But coming in sick isn’t doing anyone any favors… especially if it means circulating an illness that is going to take other employees down with you. Resist the urge, kindly remove yourself, and focus on your own healing at home.
Work from home if you must, but not at the expense of lengthening your turnaround time. Get some rest. You know, real rest. The more you can unplug and focus on letting your body do what it needs to do to get better (whether that’s extra zzz’s, bingeing your fave show with one eye open, or a dose of fresh air and gentle stretching) the sooner you’ll be back on your feet.