According to research published today (8 February) by the CIPD and insurance company Simplyhealth, the UK may be underestimating the effect long Covid is having on their workforce.
Despite the condition’s wide impact, one in five (20%) employers did not know if any employees had experienced long Covid symptoms in the past year.
Rachel Suff, senior policy advisor at the CIPD told HR magazine that this is the first time the world has seen such a volume of people experiencing a new condition develop at the same time.
She added: “Individuals with long Covid have experienced the uncertainty that comes with a new condition; this includes a longer journey in terms of accessing diagnosis and treatment.
“The very fluctuating and unpredictable nature of long Covid symptoms for many means that support at work needs to be very responsive, flexible and compassionate.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that, as of 2 January 2022, there were 1.3 million people in UK private households experiencing long Covid symptoms, or around one in 50 people (2% of the population).
It has various symptoms, including fatigue, ‘brain fog’, and heart palpitations, that differ from person to person in severity and duration.
Due to the condition’s complexity, it took almost two years after the coronavirus outbreak for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to publish its definition of ‘Post Covid-19 condition’.
To encourage employees to open up about such health issues, Suff said employers should strive to build inclusive and open cultures.
She said: “They can do this by developing responsive and supportive policies and support, but also by sending very clear communications that people’s health is valued, and people will be supported if they have a health issue or disability."
Only a quarter (26%) of organisations in total had provided any training to line managers on how to help people managing health conditions stay in work.
Suff said: “This [open culture] should be supported by effective line management, where managers build trusting relationships with employees so they feel able to share information about health issues and seek support.”
Sophie Forrest, of consultancy ForrestHR, added that the approach to long Covid could be similar to how employers help workers suffering with irregular symptoms from other chronic illnesses.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “If someone is taking sporadic time off sick, they may feel isolated or have new health requirements when returning to work.
“Employers can ensure they are properly supported by agreeing contact frequency to help them keep in the loop without overburdening them when they are below par.”
Forrest added that while long Covid is a relatively new illness, and not yet considered a disability like some other chronic illnesses are, it is best to play it safe.
“Long Covid may not yet be a protected condition, but it is prudent to be ahead of the curve – and it tells both affected staff and their colleagues that you value them and will always take proactive measures to give them the support they need.”
The CIPD and Simplyhealth study surveyed 804 UK organisations, covering 4.3 million employees.