News from the Tennessee Valley Business

Decatur Daily reporter Ronnie Thomas came in from vacation to get a flu shot. Shirley Maddox spent an hour inoculating everyone who darkened the conference room door.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Decatur Daily reporter Ronnie Thomas came in from vacation to get a flu shot. Shirley Maddox spent an hour inoculating everyone who darkened the conference room door.

Flu shots reduce absenteeism

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

Try this experiment, employers.

Take half your employees and tell them they miss entirely too much work, so you are cutting their number of allowed sick days.

Take the other half and announce that, as a new employee benefit, you are offering on-site flu shots.

The end result is the same — reduced absenteeism — but in the second approach you have, instead of angering employees, increased their loyalty.

Flu shots cost about $30 per employee when administered at the work site, and many local employers have concluded it is worth the cost.

“It enhances morale, provides higher employee job satisfaction and reduces absenteeism,” said Kelly Parkinson, vice president of human resources for First American Bank. “What’s not to like?”

Other screenings

First American, like many local employers, doesn’t stop at free flu shots. It also offers on-site cholesterol screening, glucose screening and blood pressure tests. It even reimburses employees for gym memberships.

“Employees,” she explained, “seem to be more productive when they feel better.”

Does having a needle jabbed in one’s arm really bring warm feelings toward the employer?

Absolutely, said Ronnie Thomas, a reporter with The Daily. The Daily offers free shots to its employees every year.

“It’s convenient, and it saves money,” said Thomas. “Maybe more important, it’s another sign that The Daily cares about its employees.”

Loyalty, health

A flu shot prevents the misery of the flu, making employees happy. It improves attendance and productivity, making the employer happy. And, notwithstanding the sting, it inspires gratitude — and loyalty — in the employee.

“Our folks have been asking me for a month or so when they were going to get flu shots,” said Linda Pline, plant nurse at United Launch Alliance. “They’re excited to have the opportunity.”

About 400 of ULA’s 660 employees take advantage of the free on-site shots every year.

“They’re grateful for the opportunity that we’re giving them on site. They don’t have to go to a doctor’s office or some clinic,” Pline said. “It’s a really good thing for them.”

And, said Jessica Setzer, wellness coordinator for Occupational Health Group, it is cost-effective for the employer.

Cost savings

“The cost savings of the flu shot is huge when you think of all the sick days folks would have if they were out with the flu,” Setzer said.

OHG is part of Alabama Health Group, a not-for-profit organization whose members include Decatur General Hospital and Athens-Limestone Hospital.

November is a busy time for the group as many of its corporate clients retain it to administer flu shots at the work place.

“We service over 400 companies throughout the year,” Setzer said. “We go on site and have registered nurses administer the shot.”

OHG provides its on-site service only if at least 25 employees are expected to have shots. Employers with fewer than 25 employees can take advantage of OHG’s service by sending the employees to OHG’s Decatur office at Decatur General West.

Small employers can get the benefit of on-site flu shots by joining together. If, for example, several small businesses downtown joined forces, OHG would come to a convenient location to administer shots to the employees. OHG also offers on-site blood and urine screening services, blood pressure tests, health classes and even hearing tests.

Do flu shots work?

Dr. Jeffrey Johnson of North Alabama Internal Medicine, which handled The Daily’s vaccinations, said flu shots are one of the most effective preventive medicines around.

“This is a preventable disease,” said Johnson. “It’s kind of silly when you have people succumbing to a viral illness that can degenerate into a prolonged hospitalization and even death, when they could have avoided the problem just by getting a flu shot.”

Johnson explained that flu shots are not 100 percent effective because of the guesswork that goes into developing the vaccine.

Scientists study worldwide strains of flu and try to predict the strain that will be prevalent the next flu season.

“You may get a strain that ends up being non-responsive to the immunization,” he said, “but everybody that gets the flu shot has their risk significantly reduced. It’s not foolproof, but it provides considerable protection.”

The immunization — which is a dead flu virus — works, he explained, by triggering the body to create antibodies. Once those antibodies are at their peak, which occurs two to four weeks after the injection, they have the strength to fight off the live virus.

“It is a means of boosting those signals that tell the body it’s under attack,” Johnson said. “The purpose of the flu shot is to allow the body to remember, ‘This is a bad guy. He shouldn’t be in our body, and y’all need to get rid of him.’ ”

Johnson recommends that people get flu shots by the end of November to prepare for the height of flu season, which extends from mid-December to early February.

Many Decatur-area companies recognize the cost effectiveness of providing free flu shots for their employees. Among the companies that offer them on site: Nucor Steel, Daikin America, 3M, General Electric, Bunge, Meow Mix, Hexcel, Toray, BP, ConAgra, Cargills, Computer Support Systems, BASF and Nichols Aluminum.

As a doctor, Johnson lauds companies for seeing the wisdom of flu shots.

“I recommend that employers offer it as a regular benefit to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism,” he said. “If two employees get the shot and 100 don’t, there’s a good chance those two people will be doing all the work for a couple weeks.”

As an employer, First American’s Parkinson is more direct.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.

Flu symptoms

A flu shot is the only way to avoid the flu, but anti-viral medications can reduce the symptoms and duration.

The catch is that the medication does no good unless administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Dr. Jeffrey Johnson recommends immediately going to your doctor if you have flu symptoms. Do so even if you had a flu vaccine, he said, because the vaccine is not 100 percent effective.

Typical flu symptoms:

  • High fever (usually over 102 degrees).

  • Scratchy throat.

  • Headache.

  • Joint and muscle aches.

  • Fatigue.

    Eric Fleischauer

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