A young woman sitting at a desk holding her head, looking very tired, symbolising the effects of Covid-19 and long Covid.
Image: © JenkoAtaman/Stock.adobe.com

Covid-19 is still affecting workers – here’s what employers need to know

31 May 2022

Even after recovery, many employees can still feel the effects of Covid-19 in terms of their energy and productivity levels.

More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, much of the world has been touched by the virus in one way or another.

Even with vaccinations and boosters, it’s still possible to catch Covid-19. While research suggests the effects could be greatly reduced compared to those who are unvaccinated, differing immune systems and virus variants are just two reasons why we can’t be sure how it will affect everyone.

With so much uncertainty, workplaces will continue to feel the effects of Covid-19 and should prepare strategies to mitigate the challenges they may face. While many workplaces have already had to consider a more permanent remote or hybrid working strategy, other things still need to be taken into account.

Starting with the most immediate effect, any employee in Ireland who contracts Covid-19 will still have to self-isolate for seven days as per HSE guidelines and exercise caution for a further three days.

This means employers will have to prepare for absences, both from the office and possibly from remote work while the employee recovers from their symptoms.

However, beyond the immediate need for sick leave cover, employers need to think about more long-term effects on their workers’ health.

A recent paper from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work discussed how Covid-19 can still affect workers’ health after recovery.

According to a study published in PLOS Medicine in September 2021, as many as one in three Covid-19 sufferers retain aspects of long Covid for weeks, if not months, beyond the initial infection. Additionally, current understanding of long Covid indicates that the majority people facing ongoing symptoms may be of working age.

While there isn’t a clear definition of what is considered ‘long Covid’, it can potentially result in a wide range of symptoms including extreme tiredness, sleeping difficulties and problems with memory or concentration.

What managers need to think about

How managers respond to workers who are recovering from Covid-19, or any other illness, can affect how and when the employee is able to return to work.

While managers are not expected to be an expert in Covid-19 or long Covid, it’s important that they are able to support their employees, listen to their concerns and take the necessary steps to help them.

In order to support their team members, managers should be aware of the symptoms of an employee returning to work and their limitations. This can help managers consider the steps that may need to be taken to ensure the safety of the worker and that they continue to recover.

Fatigue or muscle and joint pain should be particularly considered for deskless workers who would normally have to be on their feet for long periods of time or driving as part of their jobs.

Managers should consider any limitations the worker may have, what flexibility or adjustments can be made to help them in their recovery, and whether or not there are any safety-critical issues that need to be considered.

The paper from the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work suggested that a gradual phasing of work is particularly important to reduce the risk of relapses in employees who are recovering.

“Workers should not be doing more than 70pc of what they feel capable of doing at any time in order to avoid fatigue. Becoming fatigued can cause relapses in their condition and further delay their recovery,” the paper said.

“The worker is the person who can best assess their own level of fatigue and regular discussion between worker and manager is important to guide the successful rehabilitation of workers affected by long Covid. As in any positive working relationship, trust between employees and managers plays a significant role for effective adaptation of work.”

The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work has also published a guide for managers to help them navigate this area.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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