The Harvard Opinion Research Program at HSPH polled more than 1,000 companies from July 16 through August 12, 2009. The researchers found that only one-third of respondents believe they could sustain their business without severe operational problems if half their workforce were absent for two weeks due to H1N1.
Just one-fifth believe they could avoid such problems for one month with half their employees out.
The survey also found that while 74% of businesses offer paid sick leave for employees, only 35% of businesses offer paid leave that would allow employees to take care of sick family members, and even fewer would allow paid time off to care for children if schools/daycares were closed (21%).
“What we found is that a minority of businesses have started some sort of emergency planning,” says Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at HSPH and leader of the project. “Most, I don’t think, have thought through the implications of something so widespread.”
Of course, no one can predict just how severe the flu season will be this year, and the impact on supply chains, and the business environment as a whole, is still relatively unclear. However, if a widespread outbreak does occur, 84% of firms in the HSPH study are concerned that it will negatively affect their business.
In some ways the pandemic is similar to other localized supply disruptions – a spike in flu cases in a factory town might cause the schools to close and workers to stay home, e.g.– but if the flu becomes more severe and more widespread, the global impact could result in an overall situation that combines the worst elements of multiple localized risk events with a global event on the scale of the recent financial crisis.
The complete HSPH survey is available at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2009-releases/businesses-problems-maintaining-operations-significant-h1n1-flu-outbreak.html