A small Canadian study suggests having had COVID-19 may negatively impact one’s performance at work, even after recovering from the initial illness.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo, found that individuals who contract COVID-19 often experience memory, attention, and concentration problems, and as a result, experience “significantly more” cognitive failures at work following infection.
Study author and associate professor in Waterloo’s Psychology department James Beck says, since COVID-19 is going to be an ongoing part of Canadians’ lives for the foreseeable future, it is important to address such cognitive failures.
“It is now common for people to catch COVID-19, recover, and then return to work. Yet, in our study, people who had contracted COVID-19 reported more difficulties at work, relative to people who had never caught COVID,” Beck explained in a press release.
The findings were published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports on May 25.
Researchers collected data from a sample of 94 full-time working adults who either had or had not contracted COVID-19 at least one month prior to the study. Both of these groups were matched on key demographic characteristics, according to the report.
The study notes that those adults surveyed contracted COVID-19 prior to March 2021, before vaccination became widely available.
Relative to the group who never had COVID-19, Beck said they found that the group who contracted the virus reported more cognitive failures at work, including problems with memory, attention and action.
As a result, the study found those who contracted COVID-19 self-reported lower job performance ratings, and had increased intentions to voluntarily leave their jobs.
Researchers suspect that, since death is a relatively rare outcome among those who are young and healthy, many individuals believe they are “likely to be largely unaffected by COVID-19 if they are infected.”
“However, our results indicate that contracting COVID-19 can have practical implications for individuals’ everyday lives; particularly, their ability to function effectively at work,” the study’s authors wrote. “As such, it is possible that beyond harming one’s physical health, COVID-19 also poses risks to financial well-being.”
Beck said the study’s finding are especially important for employers and organizations more broadly.
“Individuals returning to work after contracting COVID-19 may experience difficulties returning to their pre-COVID-19 level of performance, and accommodations may be necessary,” he said in the release.
These accommodations may include reducing workloads, extending deadlines and providing flexible or hybrid working arrangements.
In providing these accommodations, the study’s authors say employers will aid in their employees’ recovery from the long-term implications of COVID-19 infection, but also “alleviate turnover intentions, as individuals will be less likely to feel their capacity to perform the job is outstripped by demands.”