Flu and flurries: How HR teams can handle seasonal disruptions

Mother cares for child while working Mother cares for child while working Mother cares for child while working Mother cares for child while working

Key takeaways

You can reduce issues that come with seasonal disruptions due to sickness or bad weather by being prepared and staying flexible.

The winter season comes with several unique concerns. From icy conditions to viruses going around to vacation days, there are a variety of ways your business plans might be interrupted, impacting your productivity and more.

Learn how seasonal events could affect your business outcomes. Then, take a look at the best ways for your HR team to help employees through the winter months.

Seasonal disruptions in the workplace Your business could experience interruptions this winter that might affect employee engagement and productivity, ultimately leading to disruptions in revenue and growth, too.

For example, you might experience disruptions in your normal business operations because of:

  • Bad weather. This might look like blizzards or winter storms causing bad road conditions or power outages.
  • Spikes in sickness.Your employees might need unexpected sick days to get over a cold or virus — either for themselves, or to care for their sick children.
  • Holiday PTO. People enjoy a little well-deserved PTO around the holidays. But this could disrupt your organizational plans.

The key is to be proactive. Prepare for these potential disruptions now instead of waiting until the night before a forecasted ice storm, or the morning your manager calls in sick. Here are the steps you should take to mitigate the effects of interruptions this summer. 

How to set your team up for success this winter

#1. Create and communicate your inclement weather policy
If you don’t already have an inclement weather policy, now is the time to create one. This is a document that explains what your company does in the case of a weather emergency. It should include information on:

  • Business closure
  • Notice to employees
  • Critical vs. non-critical roles
  • Employee pay
  • Partial closure and employee pay
  • Extended leave
  • Employees that can’t get to work

This policy helps you protect employees and make sure you’re doing everything by the book. You should provide employees with an easily accessible copy, stored in your digital knowledge base or your company handbook.

#2. Define a contact plan
Before winter weather comes into play, make sure everyone across your organization has each other’s updated contacts and clear instructions on their emergency point of contact. Each employee should know who to call and when to call them (for example, who to notify that they can’t come into work because of icy roads).

You should also communicate with your employees information such as:

A digital team directory is a great way to make sure everyone has access to accurate phone numbers for everyone else. Some businesses also use an alert notification system for emergency situations, like storms.

#3. Encourage sick employees to stay home
About 7.8 million workers missed work in January 2022 because they had an illness, injury, or medical problem or appointment. The “grin and bear it” mentality isn’t helping anyone. If your employees are sick, they need to rest until they feel better and are no longer contagious. This benefits your entire workplace.

Follow the CDC’s recommendations for sick employees:

  • Have sick employees stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicines)
  • Use flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules to help employees who need to care for sick household members
  • Cross-train staff to perform essential functions so you can continue operating

If your employees feel well enough — for instance, they have an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 — offer them the option to work from home (if possible for their position).

For employees who are absent for several days, it may be appropriate to conduct a return-to-work interview when they do come back. This casual conversation ensures an employee is fit to work; asks about any ongoing health issues that may require accommodations; and provides the employee with company updates from their absence. 

#4. Support working parents
Chances are, your company staff likely includes parents. Two in five American households have kids under 18, and most parents are working. When a child is sick, their parents’ work is affected for an average of four days. Almost 52% of parents took a combination of paid leave, parental leave, or vacation days. Others took unpaid leave or worked remotely.

Children may be more likely to have needs during the winter months as they pick up bugs at school or have time off for holiday breaks. This means your employees who are parents might have more responsibilities at home. Make sure you’re providing them with the time and space to fulfill these obligations. 

You can do this by allowing parents to work from home when needed. Or let them take a flex afternoon/morning for a child’s doctor appointment or to provide childcare. Some companies also offer a stipend to cover daycare or a babysitter. Most of all, make sure your employees feel safe coming to you to start the conversation when they are needed at home.

#5. Overcome the winter slump
Have you ever noticed that your productivity is lower after the holidays end and the New Year begins? In many cases, this workplace trend is true:

This lag in productivity may be because people feel like there’s nothing to look forward to until summer. Many people tend to struggle with feelings of depression, apathy, and low energy in the winter months (in severe cases, this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD). And these winter blues can affect the workplace.   

Inject fresh life into your office (even if your workers are remote) by helping your employees maintain their physical and mental health. Encourage physical activity, such as a daily 15-minute team walk or providing a free gym membership, to help stimulate creative ideas. Give your managers mental health training so they can help support employees; make sure your employee benefits include insurance plans that offer therapy coverage. And come up with a few fun ideas to spice up the bleak winter months — like a Valentine’s baking day or a community volunteering event.

#6. Be clear about PTO planning
Our final tip to reduce seasonal disruptions this year: Make sure employees can figure out their PTO in advance. Set a deadline for them to submit the paid hours or days they’d like off during the holiday season. This allows you to plan ahead and coordinate schedules.

Make sure you’re clear about questions like when your business will be closed during the holidays; who is eligible for paid time-off benefits, and how much; and whether there’s a limit on how many consecutive days an employee can take off.

Between winter weather, sick kids, and holiday scheduling, it’s all too easy for companies and employees to run into snags during the winter months. Follow these tips to make sure things run smoothly for your organization all year long.