[UPDATED] The Impact of Long COVID on the Workforce

Feb 10, 2022

Recently we posted an article about how Long COVID affects employees and employers. As issues around Long COVID and the workforce continuously emerge, we plan to provide updates to keep the community in the know about the latest data and conversations on this topic. In this post we’ve provide a brief review of recent studies estimating the impact on the labor shortage.

What is the impact of Long COVID on employees?

The potential reach and impact of Long COVID on the workforce is extensive. Dr. Nisreen Alwan from the University of Southampton found that 75% of the Long COVID patients she surveyed said the illness had affected their jobs. Her March 2021 study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, reported responses to an online survey of over 2500 Long COVID patients. The cognitive symptoms of Long COVID that can affect work performance and productivity include: brain fog, memory issues, and difficulties with concentration and multitasking. As a result, employees with Long COVID may lose their position if job flexibility is not possible or employers are unable or unwilling to provide necessary accommodations.

What is the impact of Long COVID on employers?

Recent studies have estimated the impact of Long COVID on the labor shortage, leading experts to now recognize Long COVID as an economic issue as well as a health issue.

One analysis from January 2022 conducted by Brookings Institution calculated that Long COVID may account for up to 15% of the 10.6 million unfilled jobs in the US. This figure is based on two other reports that found that at the time of the surveys 23% and 28%, respectively, of Long COVID patients were out of work due to their symptoms. One of the studies found that 46% of patients continued to work but with reduced hours. These data suggest that at any given time there may be 1.1 million Americans who are not working and another 2.1 million workers on reduced hours due to Long COVID. The total impact works out to about 1.6 million full-time equivalent employees.

A similar report from December 2021 determined that perhaps two million people could be out of the labor force due to Long COVID. This figure was based on data suggesting that 20% of COVID patients develop Long COVID, and that among them, half were in the workforce prior to their illness and half were unable to work due to their symptoms. 

Despite their differing methodologies and assumptions, these recent studies illustrate the magnitude of Long COVID’s effect on employees and employers.

Looking ahead

There is still a lot we do not know about Long COVID, including how long the symptoms last and how long it will affect an individual’s ability to work. As more data become available, we will continue to learn about the true burden of Long COVID on the workforce. Employers can support their employees by providing a safe work environment that prevents COVID-19 transmission as well as offering job flexibility and workplace accommodations for employees returning to work with Long COVID. For more information about steps employers can take to support their employees, please visit our previous post.

For inquiries related to the Long COVID Initiative, please contact long_covid_initiative@brown.edu