How to protect your business and look after your staff with long Covid

Mark Fosh at Howden Employee Benefits outlines what employers can do to address the growing problem of long Covid.

Tired women at work


As employees start to return to the workplace following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions this week, there is growing concern about the impact of long Covid. Employers may need to think about their approach to employee health and wellbeing.

A recent study from Imperial College, London suggests around two million people may have had some long-lasting symptoms after having coronavirus, known as ‘long Covid’. Two other studies found that women between the ages of 40-60 were more likely to be affected. The surge in the Delta variant is also likely to contribute to more cases, especially
in younger people.

The symptoms of long Covid vary in severity, but tend to include chronic fatigue, breathlessness and lung disease, muscle and joint pain, headaches, lasting fever, brain fog and memory loss, lack of concentration and anxiety and depression.

Symptoms can affect anyone previously infected with the Covid-19 virus, regardless of whether they were critically ill or only had mild symptoms, whether they are young and healthy or elderly with underlying health conditions.

As a result, employee absence due to long Covid is likely to increase and productivity likely to decrease. The symptoms can fluctuate, and sufferers may struggle to attend work consistently, underperform or be unable to work a full day. This could affect employee performance, as well as have a detrimental impact on mental health and wellbeing. So, what can employers do?

Supporting your workforce

Due to the unknown nature and longevity of long Covid, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Employers need to understand the potential risks, and plan how they will support any employees who are absent because of long Covid. Below are four ways to help support employees suffering from long Covid:

1. Remain flexible
There are lots of benefits of returning to the office, including boosting self-confidence and having valuable social interactions with colleagues. But a long Covid sufferer may have to contend with fluctuating symptoms, including fatigue, breathlessness, and brain fog. It is important to support them where possible with reasonable adjustments, such as allowing flexible working hours, offering a phased return to work or continuous homeworking as well as Occupational Health support.

2. Help line managers support their teams effectively
Line managers can play a critical role in supporting employees suffering with the effects of long Covid. It is essential they are familiar with the signs, symptoms, and the fluctuating nature of the condition. They also need to be aware of any employee benefits, policies and procedures in place that could help the employee.

3. Remind people of their employee benefits and the support available
Remind employees what support is available and how to access it. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), Virtual GPs and mental health apps are all great tools to enable employees to pro-actively look after their mental health and wellbeing and seek advice and support early on. Businesses may also want to offer Private Medical Insurance (PMI) or health cash plans to support workplace health and wellbeing and offer employees significantly faster access to medical care and treatment than might normally be available through the NHS.

4. Review your health and wellbeing benefits
It is important that all businesses, regardless of size, establish strategies and policies for managing employees with long Covid. This is to ensure the employee benefits offered are fit for purpose and provide appropriate levels of support. This is vital for both the employee and the business.

*Mark Fosh is Divisional Director at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing. Howden has partnered with RedArc, a personal nursing service, to provide emotional and practical support to employees suffering from long Covid.  Click here to find out more.

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