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Business plays a key role in trust
And thus, a big role in this respiratory season.
Trust in institutions is declining across the globe. However, one group, particularly in the U.S., has seen a significant increase in trust: businesses. (This is true across all generations except Gen Z.)
Most employees look to their employers for reliable information: those who say business should deliver more healthcare access and trustworthy information far outnumber those who say business is overstepping.
In other words, businesses are “trusted messengers” to communities.
And for a good reason: people trust who they know. Businesses showed up during the pandemic. They became a key source of information, many recognized the importance of mental health, and some have remained flexible and responsive to employee needs.
Partnering with businesses can make the traditional public health world uneasy. While some businesses do it out of the kindness of their hearts, there is obviously a clear business case for public health action (see more below).
That’s okay. A healthy community is a healthy economy and vice versa. Public health can partner by equipping trusted messengers, like businesses, with the tools, education, and evidence-based resources.
We should start with the current respiratory season.
The business case for public health action
McKinsey estimated that Covid-19 illness was responsible for losing 315 million to 1 billion employee workdays in 2022 alone. Coupled with flu and RSV, work absences because of childcare constraints were at all-time high last year. This impacts productivity, turnover, and burnout.
None of this is going away. Public health action can help. For example:
Increasing vaccine coverage: Flu vaccines reduced work sick days by 1-3 days. In the UK, if 1000 employees are vaccinated for the flu, a business reduces absenteeism by 220 days and should expect a return of £1.03-£5.15 on every pound invested by an employer (depending on the severity of the flu that year).
Upgrade ventilation systems: In a study of 4,000 employees in over 40 buildings, twice as much clean air reduced sick leave by 35%. By investing $40 per person per year to double the ventilation rate, employers can recoup $6,000-$7,000 per person per year in higher productivity.
So, where do businesses start?
Three key areas:
Build conviction: Educate on the facts. Engage with champions. Approach information apolitically, base actions on science, and act on the same values over time.
Increase convenience and eliminate cost: Nearly 1 in 2 employees state that initiatives targeting convenience and cost would significantly increase their likelihood of getting vaccinated. We see this play out in studies, like providing workers with paid time off to receive Covid-19 vaccines and to recover from potential vaccine adverse effects.
This could look like many things: pop-up vaccine clinics on campuses, paid time off to get vaccinated, ventilation upgrades, mask-friendly environments, a strategy for communication with the workforce, or even just a poster in the bathroom (like this photo someone sent me of an eerily familiar poster).
Need more ideas or support?
This Thursday, I am joining Dr. David Michaels (longest serving Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA), the Health Action Alliance, Ad Council, and CDC Foundation for a business solution-oriented discussion for this upcoming respiratory season.
It’s free and open to anyone! If you attend, you’ll also have access to a document we put together: Breathe Easy: 4 Steps to Respiratory Wellness at Work. (I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty great.)
To strive for a healthier community, an all-hands-on-deck response is required. Businesses are key partners in public health, as they are trusted messengers for many communities. Energy is wisely spent equipping them with tools and information so employees can make evidence-based decisions and live healthier lives.
“Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE)” is written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH Ph.D.—an epidemiologist, wife, and mom of two little girls. During the day, she is a senior scientific consultant to several organizations, including the CDC. At night she writes this newsletter. Her main goal is to “translate” the ever-evolving public health world so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions. This newsletter is free, thanks to the generous support of fellow YLE community members. To support this effort, subscribe below: