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Government should research COVID's impact on employee health and careers

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With all of the UK now under stringent pandemic-related restrictions, it is unclear what the unintended consequences of lockdown and measures implemented to stop the spread of the COVID–19 virus will be.

Specifically, it is unknown what the long-term effects of the pandemic on UK employees’ health and career development will be and what can be done to address any such negative effects without placing any unnecessary pressure on employers and businesses.

The physical impact of the pandemic has been widely reported, however the effect on mental health is likely to have longer reaching consequences. The Office of National Statistics shows almost one in five adults were experiencing depression during the pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around one in ten before the pandemic and these statistics were before the impact of second lockdowns and tighter restrictions were reintroduced this autumn.

Current figures show over 46% of the working population work from home in some capacity. Loneliness and feelings of isolation as a result of lockdown, tighter restrictions and no or limited contact in the physical workplace are likely to be relevant, but to what extent is unknown.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into employment and COVID-19 to analyse the pandemic’s impact on the UK workforce and what urgent measures should be taken to protect and create jobs.

The Employment Lawyers Association has responded to the inquiry and set up a COVID-19 working party to raise awareness of employment issues resulting from the pandemic including the impact on health and career development on UK employees and their employers.

Increased numbers of redundancies and lack of job opportunities, together with increased numbers working from home may have an impact on career development and progression.

The first step in addressing any negative consequences is to understand what the actual impact of the pandemic, tighter restrictions and further lockdowns actually have on employee health and career development. This will then allow a targeted plan to be formulated to address any negative consequences in order to provide focused support to those affected without placing unnecessary burdens on employers.

Surely the best way to develop an understanding of these important issues is for the government to undertake a thorough programme of properly funded research. Better this than waiting to find out what the long-term impact is to the detriment of the health and career development of UK employees only to find out that steps could have been taken sooner to mitigate any negative impact.

Lorrelee Traynor, a member of the Employment Lawyers Association and employment solicitor, NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership