Flu Season Creates Crisis Management Needs

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    Impact of flu bigger than most realize

    Flu season is upon us, and it’s an ugly one this year. According to the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.3% of U.S. deaths last week were a result of the flu, slightly above the official epidemic threshold.

    What does this mean to your organization? You’ve probably already noticed an increased number of call outs, and you can definitely expect to see more. In fact, according to Flu.gov’s Business Planning page:

    Each flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost due to the flu. That equals approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity. Through education and planning, you can help protect your employees from the seasonal flu.

    With this flu season already shaping up to be more dangerous than most, what can you do to protect your employees and customers while keeping your organization afloat?

    Inform: We’ve already blogged about the CDC’s excellent information-centric approach to crisis management, and the educational resources gathered at that organization’s flu page is a virtual treasure trove for anyone looking to protect their workforce from disease.

    Prepare: Flu season comes around the same time every year, and if you wait until your office is half empty you’re going to have a bad time of it. Prepare remote access (easier than ever thanks to broadband connections) where possible and plan ahead to have reinforcements in case you need them. Don’t expect to be able to pull a load of temps from an agency at the last minute either, talk to a few services beforehand and you can have them essentially “on call” when your office is hit with a wave of the flu.

    Internal issues aren’t your only concern, however. Your suppliers or contractors are likely to be experiencing flu-related interruptions of their own, and there’s no guarantee that they will be able to keep up their responsibilities 100%. Just as with the temps, speak with a few alternate sources early and set up a “just in case” plan with them.

    Don’t forget the customers: Whether your serve the public or offer B2B services, your customer’s needs are liable to change during flu season. You might experience a surge in home delivery requests, or perhaps a sudden rise in the number of phone calls and emails your customer service department has to handle as people avoid leaving the house. You know your customers, and you should be able to sit down and brainstorm as to what their wants and needs will be. Of course, if you haven’t already been tracking data for trends throughout the year, now would be a great time to start. The better you’re able to meet the needs of your customers, the more positive reputation you’ll grab, not to mention the return business.

    The flu is the perfect example of a crisis that you simply can’t prevent. Think ahead, plan ahead, and follow through. Leave enough flexibility to roll with whatever punches may come your way, but if you truly put time and effort into covering all your bases, you should make it through the season unscathed.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]