What is Long Covid?
For many people, Covid-19 is a short and mild illness, usually lasting anything from one to two weeks.
However, for others, symptoms can persist and weaken their ability to go about their daily routine, sometimes for weeks or even months. This is known as “long Covid” and refers to the ongoing symptoms and effects of Covid-19 experienced by some people following their initial diagnosis.
Common symptoms may include:
- Persistent fatigue
- Shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing
- Brain fog (cognitive challenges)
- Autoimmune conditions
Long Covid and its effects may be more prevalent than you think. Therefore, it is very important for businesses and HR Departments to be aware of its possible impact on their workforce, and having relevant HR wellbeing policies in place which demonstrates support to the workforce. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that as of 6 January 2022, an estimated 1.3 million people (1.9% of the UK population) were experiencing self-reported long Covid:
- One in five people experience symptoms lasting between 5 and 12 weeks.
- One in ten people experience symptoms after 12 weeks or longer.
Supporting employees with long Covid:
Recovering from long Covid can be a lengthy process and thus it is important for businesses to be mindful of this and both assist and support their employees through this ongoing process.
Line managers can support staff members with long Covid at the workplace by:
- Having regular wellbeing conversations to see how individuals are feeling
- Reviewing appropriate level of work or things such reasonable adjustments and/or phased return to work, whilst they focus on their recovery
- Providing access to wellbeing services such as an Employee Assistant programme (EAP)
What can you do as a business?
To help line managers to support employees best when working with long Covid, we recommend that businesses:
- Provide guidance and training to increase line managers’ understanding and awareness of long Covid and especially how it impacts an individual’s health and their role
- Train line managers on how to have effective conversations with employees returning to work following a sickness absence
- Create a safe environment for open communication. Disclosing information about a disability or chronic illness, such as long Covid, may be intimidating for employees and can potentially result in a formal complaint. However, as a business if you have a more honest and transparent approach, it shows to the individual that the business is there to support them through the difficult times.
Structuring your team for support
There are a number of things which a team can do to support their fellow colleagues return to the workplace, and as a business you can aid this by:
- Providing access to education and group training to help with understanding and recognising long Covid and its impact on individuals.
- Prioritising wellbeing at work among the team through regular check-ins, and placing wellbeing on the team meeting agenda throughout the year.
- Monitoring workload to ensure that absences or other reasonable adjustments do not affect the rest of the team, and therefore departments have the capacity and resources to provide compassionate and practical support to employees with long Covid.
Although recovery from Covid-19 can be long, many people improve with time, and treatments are improving as more is researched and known. Returning to work is part of the recovery process and may be a starting point for most individuals.
Failing to acknowledge or effectively manage an employee suffering with long Covid symptoms could leave an employer with a possible employment tribunal case, so it is crucial businesses invest in ways to support staff with long-term health problems, as well as becoming more involved in promoting healthy lifestyles in general.
Our recent article regarding Employment Law updates which came into effect in April 2022 provides guidance on statutory sick pay and other relevant employment law updates to ensure that you and your business remains compliant from a legal perspective and steer clear of any potential employment tribunal cases.
Reshape HR is here to assist. We work with a variety of clients based across the UK, so if you are looking for HR or Payroll support or simply looking to run something past us, please do get in touch with us via: