Growing concerns around the number of people suffering from Long Covid should be prompting employers to consider how they might support employees suffering symptoms and manage rising absences, warns Adrian Lewis, Director, Activ Absence.
According to the Office for National Statistics around one in five people who tested positive for Covid-19 had symptoms that lasted for five weeks or longer, and one in 10 had symptoms that lasted for 12 weeks or more. Some people are experiencing severe ongoing symptoms nearly a year later.
The NHS lists many symptoms of long Covid including extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, problems with memory and concentration, depression and anxiety and feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches and loss of appetite.
Adrian Lewis says, “The symptoms of Long Covid can impact someone’s return to work and ability to function properly once back, depending on the severity. This is something that employers need to have on their radar so they can recognise if someone is struggling and ensure they have policies in place to support them.We anticipate most employees will want to get back to work quickly after Covid-19 but could end up coming back too soon. This could lead to a rise in presenteeism, which over time could result in someone taking time off sick as they make themselves worse. Over the longer term businesses could start seeing rising absenteeism, which can be costly.”
Last year, Vitality revealed that the UK economy lost almost £92 billion in 2019 as a result of ill-health related absence and presenteeism in the workplace and British businesses lost an average of 38 working days per employee to physical and mental health related absence and presenteeism.
As well as physical symptoms, Covid-19 is also affecting some people’s mental health. A report in the Lancet suggested that nearly 20% of COVID-19 patients developed a mental health issue — like depression, anxiety, or dementia — within 3 months of diagnosis.
Some people are even reporting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with a study suggesting a third of patients who had been on ventilators had all of the symptoms of PTSD. The study also says PTSD symptoms can start within six months and continue for years preventing people moving on with their lives.
Adrian says, “Its early days to know for sure how Covid-19 is going to impact people in the future, but studies are beginning to show that some are adversely affected for a long time. Employers need to be mindful of this and adapt work policies accordingly.
“Offering phased returns to work and flexible or reduced hours for instance could help employees get back to work by helping to managing symptoms such as fatigue. Also having robust systems in place for monitoring staff absence can help prevent a rise in absenteeism.
“Absence management software enables employers to track absence, prompts return to work interviews and offers data and reporting tools to spot absence trends. This encourages managers to have conversations with staff who have been off sick and find out if they are struggling, offering support if necessary or directing them to outside health services.
“Employers want staff to make a full recovery from Covid and be at their optimum best in the workplace. It’s important therefore to have systems and processes that can help them identify someone suffering with ongoing symptoms, so they can intervene and help them back on the road to recovery.”