The UK government has announced its plan for living with COVID, detailing how and when remaining COVID restrictions and laws are to be lifted. This plan is relevant for businesses in England, whilst the devolved administrations are working at their own pace.
Although the title of the plan, Living with COVID, tells us that COVID-19 has not gone away, the points within it suggest that life should now be returning to some sort of normality.
As social distancing, face coverings and testing become less of a mandatory requirement across the home nations, it won’t be long before attitudes towards COVID change. Returning to normal life and work, it can be easy for people to think that COVID just isn’t an issue anymore. Especially if it no longer dominates the front-page news.
It’s important to remember though that living with COVID is the message. In fact, plenty of people are still living with, and suffering from, the symptoms of COVID. It’s known as post-COVID-19 syndrome or Long COVID.
One in five people who test positive for COVID-19 experience symptoms for five weeks, and nearly one in seven can do so for up to three months. Long COVID, as the name suggests, lasts even longer.
For employers, potentially already dealing with low levels of staffing due to the Great Resignation, that could mean employees not bouncing back from sickness. It could mean that a usually top performing employee is struggling after returning to work from having COVID.
Spotting the signs and symptoms of Long COVID in your workforce
Many people want to get back to normal, but some will be battling a long recovery from COVID. Similarly, presenteeism, a feeling of needing to be seen working, can inhibit recovery time and see people return to work with lasting symptoms.
It can be hard to spot that someone is struggling with Long COVID unless you know what to look out for. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you to step in and provide support.
There is a long list of possible symptoms, and not everyone will have them all as COVID is known to affect people differently. A big one to look out for is fatigue or extreme tiredness. It’s more than just a bad night’s sleep and can result in an increase in mistakes at work, slower reactions, impaired decision making and becoming easily distracted or irritable. These are the sorts of behaviours that might typically trigger a performance review or disciplinary process.
Other symptoms of Long COVID can include:
Problems with memory and concentration, also known as “brain fog”
Depression and anxiety
Joint pain, pins and needles, dizziness, tinnitus
Sickness and stomach complaints
Supporting employees through Long COVID
Part of the process of living with COVID is knowing how to support employees that become sick from the virus, whilst maintaining business as usual. This requires a short- and long-term plan.
Supporting a gradual return to work and reviewing duties for an employee who has Long COVID would be a good idea. It can help worker well-being and can also improve staff retention rates, as investing in your current staff will give a far better ROI than having to seek and train up replacements.
Flexible working can really help here. Not just in terms of flexible working hours or location, but understanding that an employee with Long COVID will work when they can. Flexible deadlines and knowledge sharing amongst the team would also be beneficial.
Keep communication lines open, although not to increase workload prematurely, but so that the employee knows that they have your support and that they are still an integral member of the team. If they are in need of emotional support, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide confidential counselling. Long-term sickness can take its toll physically and mentally, an EAP is a cost-effective solution for employers to show their support.
Support for your small business
If you are managing an employee suffering from Long COVID, you too may need support in running your business. Call us if you need a helping hand with your HR and people management during this time.