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Pandemic Influenza

Q: Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Pandemic Influenza. Should my company be doing anything at this point?

Experts are recommending that all businesses design a plan to be prepared in case we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. A pandemic occurs when a critical illness spreads rapidly and becomes prevalent across a whole country or even the world affecting a significant percentage of the population. Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is an illness resulting in respiratory infection.

Meyers, Norris
Scientists are very concerned with avian influenza (there are at least 15 noted types), but specifically the H5N1 strain currently infecting and resulting in the deaths of many birds in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa. Within Asia, Europe and Africa, a small number of human cases of avian influenza have been reported. The mortality rate for these cases has been just over 50%. Most cases can be traced back to contact with infected birds or their droppings but concern is growing that the virus may be able to spread from human to human. Should this strain of avian flu mutate and become easily transmittable among humans, a global pandemic may follow.

At this time no vaccine is available to protect against the avian flu. If the virus mutates in to a form more readily transmittable among humans, a vaccine can then be developed. However it may take four to six months to be manufactured and no one would be immune to the illness during this production time frame. During a pandemic, infection and illness rates are expected to be high (25-50% of the population) and the mortality rate is expected to be between 50% and 60%. As such, businesses should expect to face major interruptions to their business due to staff shortages as staff will be away ill, away caring for ill family members or unable to come to work due to the lack of public transit. Businesses may also face other continuity issues that may include shortages in supplies, logistical issues or even forced closure of their office buildings to further limit the spread of the virus.

All businesses should designate a formal pandemic team to complete an assessment of the business, formulate and implement a plan of preparedness. The following factors should be considered when assessing, preparing and implementing a plan of action:

Complete an analysis to determine the impact of a pandemic on the business. Consider the following:
  • Who are the essential employees, essential suppliers, supplies/raw materials, contracted services and logistics (consider border closures)? If these are not available, can your business still operate?
  • Forecast absences among all levels of staff and determine what services you can maintain at certain levels of staffing. Further cross training may be required.
  • What is the nature of your business? Will demand increase, decrease or disappear during a pandemic?
  • Speak to your key customers about your plan so they will know what to expect.

    The pandemic team must establish and stay current with reliable sources of information about pandemic influenza for your organization and implement an emergency communication system. This is to ensure businesses can always get in touch with staff away from the office in a timely fashion. This system must be tested on a regular basis.

    Training and Communication to Employees
  • Develop and launch training programs to educate employees about the threat of a pandemic, what they can do to protect themselves and what the company is doing.
  • Provide hygiene training to your staff as well as guidelines around social distancing.
  • Encourage employees to plan for their families and to get in touch with local community resources.
  • Encourage staff to get an annual flu shot

    Consider if your business will need any new policies or changes to existing policies during a pandemic.
  • How will you compensate your employees? Do you need to enhance your sick leave policy?
  • Flexible working policies need to be evaluated (telecommuting, staggered shifts etc.) to determine if these are viable options.
  • Do you need to be able to restrict travel or have evacuation plans in place for employees in affected areas?

    Resources need to be evaluated.
  • Stockpile any needed supplies such as hygiene products, office supplies in all office locations.
  • Is the IT infrastructure sufficient to allow critical employees to work from home? Should it be expanded so further employees have this option?
  • Do you have access to a medical resource for advice or critical situations?

    Helping your Community
  • Your company should consider working with external organizations such as your insurance provider, provincial and municipal health authorities etc.

    Having a plan is essential to protect workers from becoming ill, reducing the risk to losing critical business capacity and help minimizing financial losses during a pandemic.

    All information is from the Government of Canada Pandemic Influenza Website as of June 12th, 2006 (www.influenza.gc.ca) and the BC Government Pandemic Influenza Preparedness website as of June 12th, 2006 (www.healthservices.gov.bc.ca/pandemic).

    Cindy Ziobrowsky, RPR is Senior Advisor, Human Capital for Meyers Norris Penny in Vancouver.

    Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker

    Q: I have a colleague who makes working here very difficult. She goes out of her way to be pleasant and helpful to our managers but can be very nasty and negative with me. I really enjoy my position and the company but because we work so closely together I am very unhappy. How can I stop her from ruining a good job?

    Answer: At some point in our lives/careers we must deal with people we don’t like very much, or with whom we would not otherwise choose to associate. This can make our working experience very frustrating and unpleasant. The longer it persists the bigger the problem becomes.

    If this were a coaching session I would ask you to reflect on the situation with your colleague and to respond to a few questions. Some of the questions I might ask you to think about are:

  • What would help you get along better?
  • What would your ideal working environment be like?
  • Do you know why she behaves this way or are you just guessing?
  • Do you know what she would like from you that might help improve the working environment?

    Karen McNeil
    Keep in mind you do not have the ability to control anyone’s behaviour aside from your own. You do, however, have the ability to control your own reactions to others’ behaviours, and potentially to “influence” how others behave toward you. There are two sides to every relationship. There must be consideration from both sides of a relationship for it to work well.

    To ensure that your colleague understands how you are feeling you need to have a private conversation with her. You will not be able to fix the problem unless there is agreement on what needs to change. It is something you and your colleague must solve together.

    Before you begin your discussion take some time to prepare. You want the meeting to be productive and one that turns emotional will not be effective for either of you. Prepare an outline of what you want to discuss. Determine what your priorities are. Think of what questions you want to ask during the meeting and write them down.
    At your meeting, talk about what you are experiencing and what you are observing. Ask for her feelings and then listen for clues to the real problem. It may take some time to get to the root of the problem. Once you both have agreed on what the problem is, you can discuss strategies to solve it. Discuss your individual needs with an aim to working together more collaboratively and to support each other in attempting to meet company goals.

    Be prepared for some feedback in the process. There may be perceptions about your behaviour that you can address as part of the solution. It is very important to go into the meeting with a positive attitude and a commitment to yourself to try to work this out.

    Having the discussion with your colleague, in a professional way, demonstrates you are assertive and will stand up for what you have the right to expect in your workplace. It will be worth the effort if you can influence the outcome.

    If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, or if it does not result in the type of behaviour change you are looking for, it is then time to have a conversation with your manager. I would address your concerns in as positive a manner as possible. Begin by explaining your understanding of your role. Express your observations of how your colleague has treated you and provide concrete examples of your observations. Discuss your attempts and desire to work with the employee to deal with the issues. Provide a professional summary that demonstrates your ability to look after the company’s best interest and ask for any suggestions that he or she might have.

    Continuing to find ways to make your interactions more positive will ensure your experiences at work are positive. Life is too short to be unhappy in your work environment.

    Karen McNeil Murdoch is Vice President of Career Management Consulting for Right Management is Southwestern Ontario.

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