The CEO Poll: Preparing for the big flu

Business leaders think employers are prepared for H1N1.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

? SARS, Y2K, avian flu, mad cow, Wolf Blitzer in CNN’s Situation Room. The sky is always falling. With the latest health scare, H1N1, or swine flu, as it’s popularly known, many Canadian executives are skeptical that there will be a crisis. But if it does happen, they think employers are more prepared than they have been in the past, and most respondents have confidence that health ministries are ready to take on a major pandemic.

A recent poll by Compas Inc. of CEOs and business leaders shows they believe employers have significantly upped their level of readiness for H1N1 in comparison to previous health scares. In April 2003, in the midst of the SARS epidemic, only 7% reported that employers were taking significantly more precaution than normal to deal with the outbreak. Today, in the wake of H1N1, that number has jumped to 17%, with almost 50% saying they are taking “somewhat more” precautionary measures than normal, such as increased monitoring of employees and sending them home at the earliest sign of flu-like symptoms.

However, even though business leaders think Canada is well prpared for a crisis, many remain unconvinced that H1N1 will have a significant impact: On a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 meaning a major pandemic would definitely happen within two years, the mean score was 42. Said one executive: “The H1N1 threat, though real, has been overblown.” Another respondent was even more blunt, saying, “All this pandemic information is garbage, and a total waste of everybody’s money and effort. How many died worldwide from SARS — less than 200? More people die in a single plane crash.”

The poll respondents — in a rare show of approval — gave decent marks for the government’s response to H1N1, with 51% declaring that provincial ministries of health have somewhat improved their ability to handle potential pandemics, and 20% saying it has improved “a lot.”

However, ambivalence and even confusion remain dominant themes in the poll results. Said one respondent: “The biggest problem governments face is that there are conflicting opinions on what is known.”