Employers grapple with pandemic impact as workers report long COVID, higher levels of depression

Employers continue to grapple with the ripple effects of the pandemic as more than one-third of employees report long COVID symptoms that impact their ability to work, including higher rates of depression, anxiety and absenteeism.

Among those employees who are still having long-term effects, 71% are experiencing greater levels of depression or anxiety and many report higher absence rates and lower productivity compared with those who had COVID-19 and recovered or those who never had COVID-19, according to a new survey by global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson.

“Long COVID-19 is a persistent and significant health issue,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader at WTW, in a statement. “Employers can support employees suffering from post-COVID-19 symptoms by providing accommodations such as reduced hours, time off and job restructuring that can help minimize long COVID-19’s impact on absenteeism, productivity and mental health issues.”

The survey of more than 9,600 employees found the majority of U.S. workers give employers high marks for keeping them safe and supporting them during the two-year pandemic.

RELATED: WTW survey: Employers see workers' mental well-being as a top priority this year

However, employees are polarized when it comes to workplace mask and vaccine mandates. While most are supportive, opposition to pandemic mandates is high among some employees.

Nearly three-quarters of employees (70%) report feeling comfortable in the workplace. Two-thirds said their employers are keeping them productive (67%) and safe (66%) from COVID-19. More than half (58%) believe their employer has supported their well-being.

However, employees differ on safety requirements for on-site workers. The majority of employees support employer vaccination mandates (58% versus 22% opposed). Even more favor wearing a mask inside buildings (65% versus 15% opposed). More than half (54%) favor regular testing to enter the worksite versus 21% who oppose testing. 

RELATED: Survey: Many employers rolling out vaccine mandates despite ongoing legal challenges

Only 11% of employees at companies with vaccine mandates oppose them, while 40% of employees at companies without mandates oppose them.

"The past two years have been challenging times for both employers and their employees,” Levin-Scherz said. “Employers have made their employees’ health and wellbeing a top priority throughout the pandemic. As our survey results show, most employees embraced their employers’ actions to keep them safe at work and support them. And, those efforts are having a positive impact on employees.”

A majority (84%) of employees who feel safe and are comfortable at work plan to stay with their employer for at least two years.

Despite vaccines being an effective tool to reduce severe illness and death, 3 in 10 employees say they are more likely to quit if their employer adopts a vaccine mandate.