How does hay fever impact UK businesses?

It's estimated that around 41 million people in the UK have some form of allergy, and the World Health Organisation views allergies as a global health issue. Around 26% of adults in the UK suffer from hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, so some of your employees will likely be hay fever sufferers.

2018 survey found that up to one in five hay fever sufferers needed to take time off work due to their symptoms, with a third lying to their manager about the reasons for their absence due to a lack of understanding about the severity of their symptoms. While hay fever isn't a disability, it can leave employees feeling tired, irritable, and lacking in focus. It's estimated that reduced productivity due to hay fever symptoms causes the UK economy to lose approximately £324 million annually.

Helping employees manage their hay fever symptoms could give you a more productive workplace.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis and other seasonal allergies can include:

  • A blocked or runny nose and loss of smell
  • Constant sneezing and coughing
  • Red, itchy and watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • An itchy throat, nose, ears and mouth
  • Tiredness

While a runny nose from a cold will usually clear within two weeks, allergic rhinitis can persist for several months, particularly in warm weather.

How to support staff with hay fever

There are various ways to support employees with allergies in the workplace. These range from simple steps to minimise exposure to allergens in the workplace to higher-level management support.

Carry out a risk assessment

A workplace risk assessment can help you consider ways to reduce employees' exposure to allergens in the workplace and minimise hay fever symptoms. While a workplace risk assessment can benefit hay fever sufferers, it can also benefit other allergy sufferers. For example, some staff may experience allergic reactions to dust mites and pet hair or have mould or food allergies.

Taking a broad brush approach to managing allergies in the workplace will help you devise a suitable strategy. However, speaking to staff about any allergens that may cause allergic reactions lets you consider the risk of exposure to specific allergens. For example, dust mites that trigger a house dust mite allergy can still be present in an office environment. However, exposure to pet dander is less likely unless you work with animals or allow staff to bring their pets to work.

Remove potential allergens

One of the most effective methods of managing allergies in the workplace is to remove the allergens where possible or reduce the risk of exposure. Plants in the office are great for improving air quality but can cause an allergic reaction for hay fever sufferers. Consider artificial versions instead.

Keeping the windows closed when the pollen count is high prevents allergens from coming in from outside, but this could cause uncomfortably high temperatures in hot weather. Investing in air conditioning with a HEPA filter filters out airborne allergens such as pollen, smoke, and mould spores. Extractor fans can also help.

Rearrange seating

If it's practical, moving desks around or changing the seating position of employees with allergies can make a significant difference. If staff with allergies have their own offices, they will have more control over their environment. However, in open-plan areas, consider allowing hay fever sufferers to sit away from windows and external doors to minimise their exposure. Alternatively, if your workplace is mainly open-plan but has bookable office space, allowing staff with severe symptoms to book a room when the pollen count is high can help give them some respite.

Clean regularly

Hopefully, you're already ensuring regular workplace cleaning. If dust builds up, this can cause an allergic reaction in employees with a house dust mite allergy and exacerbate hay fever symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and a sore throat. Pollen can come inside through external doors or on staff members' clothes after they've been outside.

Regular vacuuming helps remove dust that can cling to fabrics. Ensure cleaners dust, sweep, and mop wipeable surfaces to remove dust, pollen, and mould spores. Where practical, consider switching curtains and carpets for blinds and vinyl or wooden floors that are easier to clean.

Provide separate storage for outdoor clothing

However your staff travel to work, they'll likely spend part of their journey outside. If the weather's good, they may head out for a walk at lunchtime to take a break from their desk. During the summer months, when pollen counts are high, they can bring some pollen back into the office with them. We've mentioned the importance of regular cleaning to remove build-up. However, you can also reduce the amount of pollen distributed through your workspace by providing separate storage for outer clothing such as coats and jackets.

Many factories, particularly those that manufacture food products, provide lockers as part of systems to prevent contaminants from entering production areas and avoid cross-contamination. Such processes go beyond what's needed in an office space, but providing a cloakroom or other contained area for employees to store coats and jackets instead of hanging them on the back of their chairs can make a positive difference.

Allow flexible working

Flexible working is a popular employee benefit, and it can help employees safely manage their hay fever symptoms. In some cases, allowing staff to work from home when pollen counts are high lets them stay indoors and control their environment.

Alternatively, shifting their working hours can allow staff with hay fever to work in the office if working from home isn't practical. Pollen counts shift throughout the day, meaning an earlier or later start can enable employees to travel when the count is lower and minimise their exposure.

Provide guidance for staff working from home

Working from home may be a temporary solution to help staff manage their symptoms or a permanent feature of your business. You can still provide advice and guidance to support them. General information can also benefit staff who travel into the office.

There are various ways to provide information and training. You can send links to online sources with guidance on treating hay fever or managing the symptoms. Alternatively, hold training sessions online or in the workplace to educate employees about hay fever. This can help staff with hay fever but also educate their colleagues so they understand the potential impact. If you already have a workplace well-being strategy, these sessions could form part of your program.

Offer management support

Creating a workplace culture that enables staff to speak openly is generally a good thing. Some hay fever sufferers have described lying to their employers about the reason for their absence because of a lack of understanding around the potential severity of hay fever symptoms and other allergies. Ensure staff feel able to speak freely about their symptoms and take steps to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

In more serious cases, encourage employees to talk to their doctor. Occupational health input can also provide personalised solutions for individual employees and ways to improve the workplace environment.

Review social and activity sessions

Team building and workplace well-being often involve activity sessions outside the office environment. Such activities should come with a risk assessment, but you must consider the impact on employees with allergies and choose suitable activities.

For example, you may have started a lunchtime walking group to explore your local area and let staff get to know each other. However, such an activity might not be suitable for a hay fever sufferer, so offer an alternative to avoid excluding them. Equally, a team-building day might involve outdoor activities or charity work. Consider whether your chosen location is suitable or arrange your away day outside the hay fever season.

Can health insurance help?

If you already provide health insurance as part of your employee benefits package, you may wonder whether it can help with hay fever. The short answer is no, it can't. Hay fever is classed as a chronic condition as there's no cure, and health insurance only covers acute conditions.

However, medical insurance provides other services that can offer support. Telephone helplines can provide general information, and online resources offer self-help. You can signpost your staff to online guidance and use it as part of training sessions if needed.

If your medical insurance includes consultant appointments and diagnostic tests, these can also determine whether an employee's symptoms are hay fever or something else. Some symptoms can also signify other allergies, and hay fever and asthma often co-exist. A precise diagnosis can give peace of mind even if insurance doesn't cover further treatment.

Get in touch

Globacare is a regulated broker helping UK businesses find the best health insurance for their needs. If you'd like to learn more about your medical insurance options, contact us for tailored advice.

Matt Fletcher
Senior Broker

Matt Fletcher

Matt, one of our senior brokers, joined us from Axa several years ago. His knowledge and expertise span health, life and income protection insurance alongside critical illness cover.

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