Three in four (78%) Long COVID sufferers have had to stop, pause, reduce or change their work since experiencing symptoms, according to a new report. With approximately 2.1 million people (3.5% of the population) currently living with Long COVID in the UK and workforce inactivity due to long-term sickness at an all-time high, the study reveals Long COVID’s significant impact on the workforce.
The report by Indeed found that nearly a quarter (24%) have reduced their working hours, 19% do less overtime, and one in four (24%) stopped working for a significant amount of time; a hard pill to swallow as the cost of living squeeze bites.
Almost no workers are immune to the impact of Long COVID
The findings indicate that nearly all Long COVID sufferers’ (98%) ability to work has been negatively impacted by the disease. And since diagnosis, 23% of workers have stopped full-time work, 12% have moved to part-time work and 19% stopped working altogether.
The research also identified how Long COVID is physically and mentally affecting this population: three in five (59%) feel more tired, 42% say it’s reduced their physical strength, 37% say it’s diminished their concentration and one in five (19%) say they’re in physical pain when working. With regards to the psychological and emotional impact, 31% cite anxiety as an impact, meanwhile one in five (21%) feel it’s reduced their confidence at work.
Employers ‘don’t understand condition’
Findings show that employers are worse at supporting staff since they’ve been diagnosed. More staff feel they are being supported poorly by their employer now (16%), than those that feel their employer supported them poorly when they were first diagnosed (13%).
Three in five (61%) of those suffering are “dragging themselves into work as they have no choice” and nearly half (49%) of those struggling feel like they can’t ask for the time off, or request the support they need, because their employer “doesn’t understand their condition”.
For some Long COVID workers, this has meant changing their job (17%); 7% have changed their employer for one that will give more flexibility and/or compassion and 6% have changed their work to do something more within their limitations. The majority of respondents (67%) feel it is vital for a company to have compassion for those working with Long COVID.
Younger sufferers fretful about career trajectories
While those aged 35 and over say physical issues have most affected their work (65% cite fatigue, 65% lower energy and 52% feel weaker), those aged 16 to 34 experience greater psychological impact. One in four (23%) young people say it’s negatively impacted their confidence, compared with 20% of those aged over 35. Young people cited feeling less confident (23%), less connected with colleagues (14%), less ambitious due to reduced capabilities (28%) and finally less hopeful for potential career opportunities (32%).
Danny Stacy, Senior Manager, Talent Intelligence at Indeed said: “Our research shows that the health emergency has become an employment crisis. While there’s still so much we don’t know about Long COVID, we’re now discovering the true extent to which the illness impairs people’s ability to work.
“With economic inactivity through sickness at a record high, three quarters of people suffering from long term COVID symptoms have been forced to completely rethink their career while one of five stopped working entirely. Worse still, the rising cost of living is making conditions even harder with most employees with long COVID feeling they have no choice but to drag themselves into work. Employers cannot make these people medically better but it’s clear from our research that they have a role to play starting with better understanding the toll of Long COVID and considering ways they can be more empathetic to those who continue to suffer.”
Rachel Suff, Senior Wellbeing Adviser for the CIPD, said: “Long COVID is an important concern for employers which they need to understand and take seriously. CIPD/Simplyhealth research shows that one in four (26%) employers now include long COVID among their main causes of long-term sickness absence. There’s a risk that those who experience ongoing Long COVID symptoms may not be getting the support they need in the workplace. For example, our findings show that 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.
“Organisations should urgently review their health and wellbeing strategy and ensure they are providing effective provision for those with long COVID, recognising that each individual’s experience is different. They should foster 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.”
Meredith Leston, 28, who has been suffering from Long COVID for two and a half years, explains: “During the course of my illness I have lost friends, work and my self image as the indestructible young person I was supposed to be. I was blindsided by my own body and I lost the momentum I had spent a lifetime building overnight. As both a patient and public health professional, I urge anyone reading this to never take their health for granted and to reach for their compassion for those unable to brush off COVID.
“We are hurting, yes, but we are not weak. Just the opposite, actually. Every day we demonstrate our strength and our courage by finding ways of coping, advocating for our existence and finding creative ways of making ends meet even when we feel like we’re coming apart at the seams. Right now, we need the support of our friends, our loved ones and our employers. We deserve their respect, not their doubt.”