How employers can support workers to manage the “rollercoaster” of Long COVID

Long covid, post covid concept. Long-term effects of coronavirus. Chronic fatigue or weakness, feeling tired easily. Medical, treatment for long covid symstoms, tips for recovery.
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2.2 million people reported suffering Long COVID in the UK, with prevalence greatest in people of working age (ONS, 2023). A recent study found that 80% of workers with Long Covid in paid employment reported that long COVID influenced their work ability. Supporting people with long COVID needs to a be key priority in today’s workplace if organisations are to retain skilled workers, improve long-term productivity and prevent many thousands of valuable workers transitioning into joblessness. 

New research to understand how employers can support long COVID 

Research by the University of Sheffield and Affinity Health at Work sheds light on how employers can support workers with long COVID. The team combined in depth interviews with 12 workers with long COVID about their experience, and round table with discussions with 43 managers, Human Resources, and occupational health professionals. 

The recovery journey was described as a rollercoaster, characterised by multiple periods of long-term sickness absence as their health continued to fluctuate. Several factors were found to help people stay in work and manage their condition. These included the worker’s Individual resources, support from their work Group, their Line manager, their Organisational and factors Outside the organisation.

Six top tips on how best to support long COVID workers 

1. Take a shared approach to support workers with long COVID return to and stay in work. Everyone has a role to play – the Individuals with Long COVID, people in their work Group, their Line manger, professionals in their Organisation and those Outside work.  

2. Encourage employees with long COVID workers to prioritise recovery and be open about their work adjustment needs

People with a strong work identity can find it hard to accept their changed capacity, often wanting pushing through and ignore warning signals. Long COVID workers need to listen to their body and align their expectations. Being open about their needs can help employers to make timely and suitable work adjustments. 

3. Remind colleagues of long COVID workers to keep in touch

Long COVID workers often felt isolated when on sick leave and guilty about not making a full contribution to the workplace on their return. Colleagues can support long COVID workers by recognising their need for belongingness in the workplace, including them in the community and keeping in touch with them when they are on sick leave. Supporting with work tasks, for example, by discussing important decisions with them, is also helpful.

4. Ensure line managers of long COVID workers work with the employee to identify work adjustments

Line managers play a crucial role in making work adjustments for long COVID workers. As long COVID symptoms vary and fluctuate over time, adjustments are likely to require ongoing monitoring and flexibility. Identifying and agreeing adjustments together is key as what works for one person might not work for another. 

5. Review organisational policies and practices to ensure they accommodate the fluctuating nature of Long COVID

We are learning about Long COVID and its impact all the time – but what we do know is that the journey to recovery is a rollercoaster. Long COVID absence should be viewed separately from other sickness absence to avoid workers falling into performance management traps. Raising awareness of the Long Covid, its fluctuating nature and upskilling managers on how to put work adjustments is vital. 

6. Contribute to discussion on Long COVID

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There has been a debate about whether or not long COVID is real. This is unhelpful for those whose lives have been immeasurably changed. Sharing what you are doing as an organisation to support your workers with long COVID can help to reduce stigma and encourage others to take action. 

To read more about the latest research see

To read the CIPD guidance on Working with Long Covid see,they%20need%20to%20work%20effectively 

About the authors:

Professor Karina Nielsen is Professor of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield and adjunct professor at Griffiths University, Australia. She specialises in creating healthy workplaces where workers can thrive. Professor Nielsen has published more than 150 papers in high impact peer-reviewed papers and won multiple awards for her research. She has a particular passion for developing, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based methods to promote worker health and wellbeing.  

Professor Jo Yarker is a Professor of Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London and Managing Partner of Affinity, a research and consultancy organisation specialising in health at work. Jo’s award-winning work is focused on understanding what we can do to foster fulfilling, healthy and productive work, particularly under times of challenge. Jo has developed a range of evidence-based solutions to equip employees, employers and policy makers with the insights, knowledge and skills to improve working lives.


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