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Being a Good Leader Can Actually Make Your Employees Healthier. Here’s How

What leaders need to know this time of year.

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BY Todd Nordstrom - 13 Mar 2018

Being a Good Leader Can Actually Make Your Employees Healthier. Here's How

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It's nasty. And thanks to my eleven year-old son-who is similar to a walking petri dish-I'm currently part of the massive data pool stricken by this year's cold and flu season.

Of course my family and I followed all the standard rules when he was home sick last week. We begged him to wash his hands. We tried to quarantine him to certain areas of the house. We even followed him around with disinfectant wipes. And we forced him to rest-even though he was determined he could power through the illness. At home, just like at the office, cold and flu season can wreak havoc-making employees miss work, fall behind on projects, and even avoid anyone in the office who might dare to sneeze.

Nevertheless, despite my drippy eyes, puffy nose, and inability to focus, I stumbled across some research that might make you think twice about your corporate defense systems against cold and flu season. It seems there is more to warding off colds and the flu than jugs of hand sanitizer, Vitamin C, flu shots and quarantines. And, I'll warn you now, at first it might seem like a strange suggestion.

What is this secret cold and flu defense? Stop making employees and colleagues feel inferior.

Researchers at Carnegie Melon University inserted cold and flu viruses directly into the nostrils of 193 men and women. Study participants who felt inferior to their coworkers were more likely to actually get sick.

Obviously, feeling inferior can lead to all sorts of other issues at work. It can diminish trust in relationships. It can also lead to disengagement. In fact, Gallup reported that while disengaged employees take an average of 6.2 sick days year, engaged employees take only 2.7.

The argument can be made that employees who feel inferior, disengaged, or mistrusted might not actually be any more susceptible to cold and flu than their colleagues-they simply may be more likely to avoid going to work. Either way, this is a problem than can and should be easily solved by adding a few extra steps to your company's cold and flu season defense strategy.

Practice hygiene communication.

I'm not a health expert, and, honestly, none of us need to be during cold and flu season because most of the advice we need to follow is common sense. However, as leaders we need to take control of communications throughout our workspaces and remind people to wash their hands, use hand sanitizers, and please telecommute, or take a sick day if necessary.

Again, many of these things are common sense. But keep in mind that some employees might feel guilty, inferior, or weak if they admit they're sick. Be the hygiene communicator by reminding people to remove as many germs as possible while they're in the office, or remove themselves from the office altogether.

Practice empathy.

Many of us love to tell battle stories about how we finished the project, nailed the pitch, or went the extra mile despite the fact that we were suffering from a 102 degree fever, battling bronchitis, and facing death. Work ethic is, quite frankly, a pride point for many of us. I'm personally struggling while I write this article-to stay focused, not stop every 40 seconds to grab a tissue, and still make a valid point.

But, I'm not at an office. I'm at home writing this under the comfort of a thick quilt, with a bag of cough drops, cold medicine, and a massive cup of vitamin infused water. When your team feels sick, send them home to rest. The more adamant you are about keeping them out of the office, the more likely they are to respect you for realizing they are human...and the more likely they'll want to reciprocate.

Practice appreciation.

If study participants are more likely to get a cold or flu if they feel inferior, it's your job, as a leader to build their esteem. Make extra effort during cold and flu season to communicate your appreciation for the people around you. There are three powerful ways to do this: by encouraging their effort, rewarding their results, and celebrating their careers.

According to ABC News, Americans suffer from one billion colds each year. But, "People who are energetic, happy and relaxed are less likely to catch a cold than those who are depressed, nervous or angry, finds a new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine."

We don't have to be health experts to keep our teams healthy during cold and flu season. But, we might have to become good leaders.

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