Here’s how to win at flu season and avoid getting sick

As fall approaches, so do the runny noses and colds this new season gifts us with each year. And when you work in an open office where germs can fly freely from your coughing neighbors, a sickness is just a sneeze away. Colds don’t only make you feel crummy, they also hurt workers and companies’ productivity in the long-run. The Healthy Workplace Project found that adult influenza infections result in an average of up to five lost working days a year.

But there are preventative measures employees and companies can take to beat the odds of flu season at your office. Here’s how you can win at flu season and emerge in the springtime, glowing and sickness-free.

Get that flu shot

Many offices increasingly offer flu vaccine shots as a wellness resource for the common good. Take advantage of the opportunity if your office offers it, or seek it from your local health provider. It not only helps you avoid colds, but the more people in your office get vaccinated, the more it helps the entire office by building up “herd immunity,” according to immunologists.

“Herd immunity is the idea that if I’m the one cow who can’t get vaccinated surrounded by all the other cows who did, then they can’t give me anything,” Ohio public health officer Cindy Modie told

Disinfect everything

I’m guilty of pressing my fingers to my mouth when I’m thinking. But every time you touch your eyes and mouth with your grubby hands, you increase your chance of catching the flu. The first part of flu prevention is realizing that germs lurk everywhere: from your hands to your keyboard.

It only takes one sick colleague to take down the herd. The Healthy Workplace Project found that it only took one participant’s sick hands four hours to contaminate more than half of all communal doorknobs, toilet handles, and light switches and commonly-contacted surfaces like personal telephones, computer mice, and desk chair armrests in an office.

To be spared from the office plague, your best shot is to disinfect surfaces regularly and rigorously. The Healthy Workplace Project researchers found that they could significantly reduce the spread of contamination by providing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, facial tissues, and simple instructions to office employees about good office hygiene. While the verdict is still out on whether hand sanitizers are the best way to go, a good wipe down with soap and water or other safe cleaning agents is a good bet.

Wash your hands

Regularly washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs and follow good office hygiene.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Scrubbing your hands for less than ten seconds is not enough time for your hands to get clean. The CDC says that you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, or the length of humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice. So get humming.

Take a sick day

If all else fails and you wake up one morning with a stuffy nose and scratchy throat, please don’t be a work martyr and come to the office. Save yourself and your colleagues’ health by taking a sick day. The Canada Life Group Insurance research found that too many of us worry about appearing “lazy,” “not dedicated,” or “weak” for not showing up to work when sick. Millennials, in particular, are guilty of showing up to work when sick. A CityMD survey found that they were the demographic most likely to go outside and infect others when they were sick. According to the report, “Millennials (ages 18-34) who have had the flu or flu-like symptoms were much more likely than those 35 and older to have ventured out the last time they felt sick (76 percent vs. 56 percent).”

But by coming into the office, you’re only hurting your colleagues and prolonging your suffering. Nearly half of U.K. employees in theThe Canada Life Group Insurance reported getting sick more than once because of exposure to an ill coworker.

Good office hygiene can ward away most common colds and flus from reaching you. But even the cleanest among us are not immune from falling ill. If it happens to you, don’t take your contaminated body to work — stay in bed.