back to school reduced workforceIt’s that time of year again, where students trade in their late mornings and long summer days for bus rides and homework. The excitement surrounding the first few days of school is almost palpable, as students grow accustomed to their new routines, meet new people, and learn new things; yet, there’s one thing most people—parents especially—do not look forward to: the “back-to-school plague.”

According to the CDC, children in elementary school on average get eight to twelve colds or cases of the flu each year, while older children get about half that. In addition to colds and the flu, other common illnesses that circulate schools include norovirus (stomach flu), pink eye, and strep throat. Although it is important to keep a sick child out of school until he or she fully recovers from these and other highly contagious diseases, some may feel their work environment makes that difficult. As such, they return to work too soon, carrying the disease with them.

Impact on Business

In their 2014 annual flu survey, Staples discovered 60% of the workforce still show up to work while sick with the flu. Forty percent of respondents stated the reason why is because there is too much work to get done, despite many thinking that coming to work sick is “worse for office productivity than a security breach, natural disaster, or product/service issue.” Similar research indicates workers come to work sick because their boss expects them to be there no matter what or they don’t trust co-workers to do the job while they’re away.

Showing up to work sick is worse for office productivity than a security breach, natural disaster, or product/service issue.

On the other hand, absenteeism—an employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work—also contributes to a loss in productivity. A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey found that although the annual costs associated with absenteeism varies greatly by industry, almost $45 billion is lost in professional environments (see the full list of annual loss per occupation here).

There are many ways companies can resolve the issue of protecting the health of employees at work while minimally impacting productivity. Some of these practices can include assigning a specified number of sick days per employee, paying for sick leave, and offering wellness programs to promote healthy practices. A change in company culture to one that encourages sick employees to stay out of the work environment can prove cost effective. Providing a means for employees to telecommute or work from home can allow employees who feel good enough to work but may still be a risk to others the opportunity to continue working without jeopardizing others.

Planning for a Reduced Workforce

The above suggestions are all processes that should be considered when planning for a reduced workforce. For the times of the year the number of call offs spike (back-to-school, flu season, infectious disease outbreaks), it is important to know what it will take to maintain operating levels. The following list will help you begin your planning efforts:

  • Identify essential employees and other critical inputs required to maintain business operations.
  • Anticipate situations that may lead to reductions in your workforce.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan and include channels for communicating business response actions to employees, vendors, and customers in a timely manner.
  • Create policies for employee compensation, flexible working conditions, and sick leave.
  • Institute strict policies requiring sick employees to return home until fully recovered.
  • Organize vaccination programs (e.g. flu shots).
  • Provide personal hygiene and cleaning supplies, including alcohol-based hand gels, tissues, disinfecting wipes, and surgical masks.
  • Cross-train and prepare ancillary workforce.
  • Stay abreast of media and health service resources for the latest updates.

reduced ttTo help you and your company’s leadership begin planning around a reduced workforce, download the Preparis “Reduced Workforce Tabletop” exercise. This exercise is designed to help ensure your program and plans can be executed and that all participants understand their roles.

For more ways Preparis can help your business build and maintain a culture of preparedness, visit or email us at

Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.