Almost half (46%) of organisations have employees who have experienced long COVID in the last 12 months, new data from the CIPD and Simplyhealth shows.

The survey of 804 organisations, representing more than 4.3 million employees, also found one in four (26%) employers now include long COVID among their main causes of long-term sickness absence. 

However, a fifth (20%) of employers said they didn’t know whether any employees have experienced ongoing symptoms from COVID-19 in the last year, suggesting the problem could be underestimated as a workplace issue. 

Only a quarter (26%) of organisations are providing training/guidance for line managers on how to support people to stay at work when managing health conditions, and an even smaller number (19%) provide any guidance for employees. This means some employees may be missing out on vital support from their employer or may not feel confident about how to disclose any issues and get the right support. 

In response, the CIPD is calling on organisations to urgently review their health and wellbeing strategy and ensure they are providing effective support for those with long COVID, recognising that each individual’s experience is different. 

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development comments:

"Long COVID remains a growing issue that employers need to be aware of, and they should take appropriate steps to support employees with the condition. There’s a risk that those who experience ongoing long COVID symptoms may not get the support they need in the workplace and could even fall out of work.

Employers should ensure they have a supportive and inclusive culture that helps employees feel confident to discuss a health condition and ask for support or helpful changes when needed, such as a phased return or flexible working arrangements. Line managers should be given training and guidance on how to support members of their team with the condition, including how to facilitate a successful return to work following illness. Managers should bear in mind that employees might be reluctant to discuss ongoing health symptoms, so should check-in with their team regularly and ensure there are opportunities for them to flag any issues."

Encouragingly, of those employers with employees who have experienced long COVID, many are taking steps to support their staff, such as:

  • Offering occupational health assessments (70%)  
  • Tailoring support to individual need (60%) 
  • Promoting flexible working (58%)

Angela Sherwood, Chief People Officer at Simplyhealth, the UK’s leading provider of health plans comments:

This new research from CIPD clearly demonstrates the significant impact of long COVID on employee health. Simplyhealth has sponsored the research and is committed to enabling better corporate health across the UK. We encourage all employers to recognise the full impact of COVID in their organisation and to update their health and wellbeing strategies to support employees back to full health and into work.

To support employers, the CIPD/Affinity Health at Work have today released a new report ‘Working with long COVID: Research evidence to inform support’ which is available here.

The CIPD also has up-to-date guidance on managing and supporting employees with long-term health conditions available here.

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