How to manage your staff after a diagnosis of long COVID?

It’s a fact of life that we have all had to accept and adapt to. The issue of COVID is here to stay and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Now that COVID restrictions have ended, however, employers are now faced with the problem of managing COVID in the workplace themselves via company sickness absence policies and having to sensitively manage the effects of long COVID alongside.

My blog this month provides an insight and some light HR Advice on how business owners can successfully and sensitively manage their staff who return to work with such a diagnosis.

What is long COVID?

Long COVID is defined by NICE as ‘signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19 which continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis’. Everyone’s experience of long COVID is unique to them.

Symptoms can be unpredictable and fluctuate over time, so your team member may have a period of recovery followed by a sudden relapse, sometimes with new or different symptoms. A relapse is most likely when people push themselves to perform to the level they did before they were ill. Long COVID symptoms can last for many months, and recovery can be very slow.

So, firstly let’s identify the key areas in which you can support your staff?

Supporting an employee with long COVID to return to and stay in work is important for their recovery, for your team and for your organisation. Employees are more likely to return to and stay in work when they are well supported by their manager.

The employee / employer working relationship should be built from the outset of their employment but it’s worth noting these areas in more detail to support your employees who have returned to work with long COVID…

  • Building and sustaining relationships.
  • Taking an interest in them as individuals (building a rapport and identifying common ground)
  • Offering opportunities for people to speak to you one-to-one
  • Maintaining good relationships with all your team members
  • Providing knowledge, clarity, and guidance, including giving advice and guidance if an employee needs it.
  • Providing clarity about your own and the employee’s roles and how you can work together to help them fulfil their job role.
  • Being open, fair, and consistent.

Why we need to support employees with long COVID?

As a new, serious health condition, many people with long COVID face a time of great uncertainty as they wait for a diagnosis and an effective management plan of how they can be supported and helped.

Many individuals often return to work too quickly. As a consequence, their return to work is less likely to be sustainable and there are longer-term health risks. This has significant implications for sickness absence, return to work and ongoing work.

How to manage and support someone with long COVID?

Supporting someone with an ongoing health condition can be challenging for you as their employer, so it is advisable that you ensure that there are a variety of ways in terms of specific support that can be accessed within the workplace such as:

  • Seeking expert advice from occupational health
  • Adjusting the workplace or how the employee works, such as different working hours
  • Offering a phased return to work
  • Discussing with the individual what they want to tell others at work about their illness
  • Agree frequency of wellbeing conversations and catch-ups

Manage absences and return to work with compassion and flexibility. If your team member is returning to work after a period of absence, they are likely to be experiencing mixed feelings. They might be looking forward to returning to a sense of normality but may also feel apprehensive about how they will manage their work and whether they will be able to maintain their health when back at work.

Absence and return to work are often managed as a one-off event, but many employees with long COVID will need to take multiple absences as their condition fluctuates over time.

Taking a flexible, compassionate, and individualised approach to sickness absence can help prevent unhealthy presenteeism (working when unwell).

The Final Word …….

Employees are more likely to return to work safely and productively following a period of sickness absence if they are well supported during their absence and on their return. How you manage these situations will make a difference to whether the individual returns effectively and sustainably to work.

Navigating these procedures and support measures can take time and if not handled appropriately or correctly can cause problems with the employer / employee working relationship. Therefore, seeking the correct employment advice and adhering to policies and procedures is essential in achieving a great balance for you and the individual.

If you would like further advice or guidance on how to support employees with long COVID or any other absence management enquiry; please get in touch!

Call Tara: 07983 936747


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *