How employers can help support those with Long Covid in their return to work
For a number of people, the acute phase of Covid-19 isn’t the end of the story, and the symptoms described as Long Covid impact their lives.
Many of those affected are of working age, previously fit and well, and now struggling with debilitating symptoms. Long Covid is a multi-systemic condition with many variable symptoms. These may include brain fog, memory problems, anxiety, and fatigue. For more on the signs and symptoms of Long Covid click here. For some who developed Covid in the early days of the pandemic this has been their new normal for over 12 months.
Employers need to be aware that Long Covid can present in different ways in different people. Also, symptoms can vary in a single individual on any given day.
Some people diagnosed with Long Covid report being disbelieved by their employer because their signs and symptoms are inconsistent. Attempts to ‘push through’ to comply with inflexible phased return to work programmes are ill advised. These may result in setbacks and extending and jeopardising any return to work.
Supporting staff with Long Covid
There are many factors that contribute to a successful return to work. This may have to be on reduced hours and/or in a modified or different role because of persistent symptoms.
In the NHS staff with Long Covid receive full pay and the normal sickness absence triggers don’t apply. Some non-NHS employers have also explored ways to support staff financially as they recover.
What managers can do
Managers can support staff by:
- keeping in touch in a non-intrusive way,
- informing themselves about Long Covid and its impact,
- not trying to force the pace and also resisting the member’s attempts to return to work prematurely
- being flexible in tailoring return to work plans
- using a problem-solving approach with the member (and rep)
Occupational health input
Occupational health service involvement is key. This involves assessment and ongoing advice to the employer and employee. It also involves access to other services such as
- referral to medical services for appropriate investigation, management and referral to Long Covid clinics
- Long Covid support groups
Long Covid support groups can be invaluable for sharing experiences and practical tips or advice. Support groups are an excellent way of connecting with others in similar circumstances. This can help reduce feelings of isolation by connecting with others to gain a better understanding of Long Covid. They are safe and supportive spaces to exchange support and ideas. Two examples of Long Covid supports groups are:
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have recently published their guide to Working with Long Covid. This evidence based review is a helpful report aimed at supporting successful return to work for those living with Long COVID.