Many people have had Covid-19, but even after recovery, employees can still feel the effects 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 variants are just two reasons why we can’t be sure how it will affect us.
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, the virus itself should also be taken into account.
Starting with the most immediate effect, any employee 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 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 Health and Safety at Work discussed how Covid-19 can still affect workers’ health after recovery.
According to 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 of sufferers are of working age.
While clarification of what is considered ‘long Covid’ has been sporadic in some areas and tests to confirm previous Covid-19 infection are not reliable after a certain length of time, it can affect every organ in the body, potentially resulting 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 workers, 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 ensure 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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