Can it be right, or smart, that those with long Covid are left to struggle at work or, even worse, not supported to work at all? IOSH Research Programme Lead for Occupational Health, Dr Karen Michell, doesn’t think so and here’s why…
While we all know it hasn’t gone away, for most of us, Covid-19 isn’t as front of mind as it was. Yet for the estimated 1.9 million* people in the UK for whom fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog or some other debilitating symptom continues to be a daily legacy of catching the virus, life and their ability to work is very different.
For example, fatigue and shortness of breath will limit a worker’s ability to perform physical activity while cognitive dysfunction or brain fog will hamper concentration, recall, memory, sleep and executive functioning.
For these people, life with long Covid continues to be highly challenging. They’ll have good days and bad days but for much of the time they’ll find it difficult to work, even though good work can help their recovery. They need support and, faced with a considerable shortage of workers, our economy, in turn, is going to need support from them.
Support is key
Since the majority of those who are living with long Covid are from the economically active age group, employers need to find a way to support these workers and accommodate their needs. This is key, not just to the workers’ long-term health and wellbeing, but also to the sustainability of a business or organisation.
So, what can employers do to support workers with long Covid? They should, for example:
- Resist the idea that a worker has to be 100% fit to return to work – focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do
- Learn from the worker how their symptoms affect them and what practical support they need
- Give workers flexibility to manage their symptoms, particularly on working hours or working from home, for example
- Enable workers to work at a pace where they feel comfortable
- Change workplace layout to make facilities and amenities easier to access
- Make jobs less physically demanding and adjust work conditions where necessary.
I attended a webinar, last month, which profiled an award-winning new interactive tool developed and validated in the US to help workers and employers identify work-related support strategies where workers have a disability or chronic health issue. Launched by the Institute for Work and Health, the Job Demands and Accommodation Planning Tool (JDAPT) is designed to identify accommodation and support that can help retain workers and can be used by OSH professionals to assist managers in planning interventions and accommodations.
Long Covid is a new disease and we are still learning about its effects on long term health. The majority of those affected have recovered and are back at work. Yet for those who have not fully recovered from long Covid, the opportunity to work in a supportive environment will help their recovery. This will be good for them and it will benefit the employer.
- Long COVID symptoms adversely affect the day-to-day activities of 1.5 million people (79% of those with self-reported long Covid), with 381,000 (20%) reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot”
- Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals’ experience of long Covid (72% of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by difficulty concentrating (51%), muscle ache (49%) and shortness of breath (48%)
- As a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long Covid is greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, those aged 16 years and over who are not working and not looking for work, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.