Written By Anna Harrington SCPHN OHA RN – SKC OH Guest Expert on the topic of LONG COVID management in the workplace
Long Covid how can this be managed in the workplace
In May 2021 the Office for National Statistics found that 1.1 million people were experiencing on-going Covid symptoms; otherwise known as Long Covid (LC). Other reports are indicating 15% of those who had Covid-19 go on to have Long Covid.
The majority of people with LC will make full recovery within 3 months. That is the good news. Others are reporting on-going and limiting symptoms for 12 months +. That is not good news.
LC symptoms are difficult, frustrating for all affected. Evidence about LC is growing slowly.
Typical symptoms can be a combination of any of these listed
- Fatigue – common
- Breathlessness – common
- Brain fog; difficulties concentrating, memory, processing – common
- Joint & muscle pains – common
- chest pain or tightness
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
Mental health is affected; anxiety/depression.
How does this impact work ?
Be aware of Red Flag symptoms (warnings of very serious health issues). An Employee must not do anything physically exerting until being medically cleared.
- Chest pains
- Rapid heart rate
- Breathlessness that is not getting better
- New confusion
- Not getting any better.
What can employers and employees do?
- If you have an employee off sick from work with LC symptoms, keep in touch with them.
- If an employee is stating they feel ready to return to work, I suggest you invite them to have an occupational health assessment with a fully qualified and registered occupational health professional.
- Successful return to work means that the employee is able to sustain both work and non-work lives. Energy levels could be a significant barrier to this. Occupational Health will help and advise if the employee is ready to return to work.
Actions to enable a successful return to work
Plan, prioritise, and pace
- The employee can list out the work tasks (physical, cognitive and emotional) and indicate which are high, medium and low energy demands or difficulty to do.
- Commute & work travel – how will this be done, how tiring is it? Employee to rehearse this.
- With the employee consent awareness raising with employee colleagues and work significant others of LC.
- Employer and employee can discuss together what work is the priority- high, medium & low. Bear in mind this will be an on-going process as the employee abilities fluctuate.
Pacing & effective rest
- Pacing is about using energy carefully to avoid “boom & bust” sequences.
- Effective rest means taking deliberate periods in the day to disconnect from anything stimulating; social media, reading, bright lighting, noise, talking, watching – to just sit or lie in a quiet, low light level place.
- Adjustments to work content, location, time periods are likely to be helpful to the individual plus to you as an employer if the adjustments enable the employee to consistently attend work and complete tasks well.
- LC symptoms fluctuate; therefore adjustments are also likely to need to be altered. It is a really good idea to organise for regular (nonperformance related) wellbeing reviews.
- The following are examples. These examples will not suit all workplaces in all situations, all the time. Use the examples as ideas to start considering what you may be able to offer. This link is to further return to work advice from the Society of Occupational Medicine.
Adjustments – working time
- Avoid night, early morning or late evening working.
- Avoid shift working.
- If standard breaks are longer than 20 minutes you may want to consider splitting into shorter more regular breaks.
- Off flexi breaks – able to take them when the employee choses to.
- In addition, being able to offer micro (2-5 minutes) breaks regularly can be useful.
- Able to take breaks outside.
Adjustments – work location
- Minimise the commute to work. This could be by working closer to home, lift shares, travel in non-rush hour.
- Work from home, sometimes.
- Reduce noise levels at work.
- Able to work with noise cancelling headset or ear buds with background sounds.
- Give control (if at all possible) over temperature and lighting levels.
- Create a quiet, low light level space to be used for effective rest periods.
- Complete a workstation assessment. Consider equipment such as lap top riser, upright mouse, soft touch keyboard, all of which can reduce energy being used.
Adjustments – work demands
- Pull out the list of work demands that the employee made (see planning section). Have most of the day with low demand, with occasional medium and rarely high. As the employee progresses this ratio can be adjusted.
- If high demands are not able to be limited, allow extra time and/or rest periods after completing.
- Risk assessment moving and handling, both frequent moving of non-heavy items and infrequent moving of heavy items. Here is Health & Safety Executive risk assessment example.
- Reduce the frequency and speed of moving and handling of items.
- Reduce the weight of the loads.
- Support such as being with another at meetings and sharing the meeting expectations.
Adjustments – other ideas
- Give regular feedback; praise and corrective. Corrective feedback to be given leaning the employee confident in being able to make the changes.
- Conduct regular reviews that are not linked to performance appraisal processes. The reviews to include consideration of how the person is feeling (wellbeing), the effectiveness of current adjustments and adjustment changes.
- Working with another person, certainly initially on return to work can help build confidence.
- Employees to use Pomodoro working for managing reduced or difficulties with concentration.
- Use lists, reminders, alerts to help with memory deficits.
To learn more join Anne our long Covid occupational health expert in one of her webinars or eLearning
Managing Long Covid in the workplace for employers, line managers, HR. Book here. (can be delivered live to a group).
eLearning – Improve your sleep Improve your life (can be delivered live to a group).
eLearning – Long Covid for those with symptoms