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We need to talk about long COVID at work

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. There’s an interesting piece of legislation floating around in California that proposes to shorten the workweek from 40 hours to 32, without any reduction in pay: four-day workweek in action. Obviously, this would be huge for Californians and for workers in other states, and there would doubtless be many detractors. I can see this playing out similarly to how salary transparency laws are influencing corporate actions right now, with some companies avoiding states like Colorado that have stricter salary-disclosure laws.

Meanwhile, New York City’s salary-disclosure law is set to take effect May 15. Business groups are working to get the law postponed or changed in the meantime, according to the WSJ. What do you think of these types of legislation? Let me know: mma@protocol.com.

Today: How companies can support their employees battling long COVID, how tech workers *really* feel about returning to the office, and why certain office perks don’t matter.


— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

How to support workers with long COVID

For millions of Americans, COVID-19 symptoms didn’t stop after a few weeks — and that’s a huge problem for the workplace. Symptoms like brain fog, fatigue and muscle pain can linger for months, with no clear end in sight for some patients. Long COVID has led an estimated 1 million Americans to leave the workforce altogether, and one study found that 45% of long-COVID patients had cut back on their hours.

This is a wakeup call for people-leaders and managers. Employers should treat long COVID like any other disability: with an interactive process to find appropriate accommodations. But what makes the condition different from others is that it’s new to everyone, and most patients are still figuring out how to adapt, said Ted Drake, Intuit’s global accessibility leader.

  • “If I’m someone that grew up with ADHD or autism or low vision or hearing loss, I’ve built up resources. I’ve built up tools and techniques to succeed,” Drake told me. “What’s happening with long COVID is you have people that are all of a sudden realizing that they can’t remember how to complete a task and they don’t understand why they’re exhausted by 3 o’clock.”
  • Accommodations can look like remote work, a different schedule, shifting some responsibilities to other members of the team or offering help with mundane tasks like scheduling. There’s even software that can help workers focus, Drake said.

Educate both employees and managers on long COVID. Some managers at Intuit knew their employees were dealing with medical issues, but didn’t realize those symptoms were connected to long COVID, Drake said.

  • Some employees learned about their own long-COVID conditions from events through Intuit’s accessibility employee resource group. “It was a moment where people started to say: ‘Oh, wow, I knew I was sick and I thought I was better and I should be better, but I’m not really feeling that way,’” said Humera Shahid, Intuit’s chief DEI officer.

Encourage open communication with trust. Workers won’t be forthcoming about their long-COVID diagnosis if they’re afraid it will negatively affect their employment or standing at the workplace.

  • Lesley Macniven, an HR consultant who founded LongCovidWork.co.uk while suffering from long COVID herself, told me that many long-COVID patients are hiding their condition while working from home. But it will be harder to conceal in the office, she said.
  • “This idea that people now go back into the office — that’s when we’ll start to see a lot more people suddenly having to ‘fess up,” Macniven said. “That could be a problem.”
  • You can avoid this if your employees trust that their diagnosis won’t come back to bite them at work. During the pandemic, Intuit began asking its managers to “engage in true dialogue” with employees about how they’re doing, specifically in terms of physical and mental health.
  • HR departments can offer a more formal disclosure process when employees aren’t comfortable opening up to their managers, and employee resource groups can be used to offer coaching and other resources, Shahid said.

One more thing: Get ready to pay more for health care. Where employer health care costs have historically risen 5% to 7% per year, companies should expect to see premiums rise 8% to 10% this year, said Brian Kropp, Gartner’s chief of HR Research.

  • That’s because of the increased cost of illnesses like COVID and long COVID, and health conditions tied to more sedentary lifestyles that the pandemic brought on, Kropp said.
  • “You’ve had employees that have been, across the last year, in the hospital for an extended period of time, and health care companies need to get that money back,” Kropp said. “The way they’re going to get it back, in all honesty, is through charging higher premiums.”

Above all, be proactive about long COVID. Educate managers and employees and offer open lines of communication.

  • “This is one of the most complex areas of employment law, and it’s a dance. It’s a little bit nuanced,” said Jessica Shpall Rosen, an attorney at Greenwald Doherty LLP. “It’s very important, I think, for companies to be proactive: Not just to have good policies, but to make sure that their managers know how to address an issue like this and to know when to escalate it.”

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

Does the office matter?

Depends on who you ask. My colleague Allison Levitsky braved the mean streets of San Francisco, specifically Salesforce Park, for the latest installment of her fun series, “Ask a Tech Worker.” With many major tech companies calling their employees back to the office, the response has been, well, mixed. Just browse any forum on Blind, and it’s clear tech workers are unhappy about being forced to go in when they’ve proven they can do their jobs just as well, if not better, at home. Levitsky spoke with some folks who had different opinions on office life. One CEO observed: “If you don’t trust someone to work from home, you shouldn’t have hired them, or they shouldn’t be on the team in the first place.”


Read the full story.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META

100% of C-suite staff surveyed by Workplace by Meta said that frontline workers were a strategic priority for their business in 2022, but nearly two in three of them said that keeping their frontline staff, who bear the brunt of the stresses of the workplace most acutely, had only become a priority since the pandemic hit.

Learn more

Today's tips & tools

Workers are going back to the office, but few of them are going back five days a week. Here are some tools you can use to show whether you’ll be in-office on a certain day. Using tech like this is helpful for employee bonding, but also for contact tracing.

  • Officely Slack bot. The app lets you mark which day you’re going in, as well as extra notes like whether lunch is booked or you’re bringing a guest (or your pet). It also prompts you to fill out a health survey before you come in.
  • Robin in Microsoft Teams. I couldn’t find a specific hybrid office app, but Robin is a desk-booking tool you can use to see which co-workers are in-office. You can also quickly see where they’ll be located within the office. You can integrate the app right within Teams.
  • Team Calendar. You can create a specific office calendar within Outlook and Google Workspace. Just add a calendar event to let your team know that you’ll be in-office.

How’s your office handling this? Let me know if your team has a foolproof method for organizing office schedules.


— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email | twitter)

Does your employer pay your cell phone bill?

Samsung and Oxford Economics released a study this week about how companies are rethinking their BYOD mobile strategy as they head back to the office. In particular, the study found that mobile stipends are no longer a unique perk. Everybody’s doing it.

  • 98% of BYOD employers pay a monthly stipend to employees to compensate them for the use of their personal mobile devices.
  • $40.20: the average monthly stipend.
  • $482: the average BYOD stipend cost per year per employee
  • $893: the average BYOD cost per employee for stipends, in-house and outsourced management of the stipend and mobile device management (MDM) software.

See the full report.

More stories from us

A group of Apple workers at the company’s Grand Central flagship store are trying to form a union. If successful, they’d be the first group of unionized Apple employees.


Are work-sponsored video games the secret to stopping The Great Resignation?

A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META

Businesses are starting to turn to workplace communication tools. Such tools enable frontline workers to feel more connected to the rest of their business, to raise concerns and to provide feedback on potential pain points or points of improvement. By bridging that divide, companies can unlock new savings and efficiencies, and build a business that can last for the long run.

Learn more

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

Verizon raised minimum wage to $20 an hour for U.S. employees.

Workers, relax: Your odds of getting laid off are at historic lows right now.

A gem from Anne Helen Petersen: People today are doing what used to be the jobs of two or three people.

There are big changes coming for tech workers. A lot of it has to do with salary disclosure laws.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great day, see you Thursday.

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