More than three-quarters of people (78%) with long Covid have found the long-term post-viral symptoms have forced them either to stop, pause, reduce or change their work.
A survey of 1,002 people commissioned by recruitment website Indeed found that nearly a quarter had been forced to reduce their working hours. A fifth had had to reduce their overtime, and one in four had stopped working for a significant amount of time.
It has been estimated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that as many as 2.3 million people, or 3.5% of the UK population, are living with long Covid. The ONS has also highlighted that workforce inactivity because of long-term sickness is at an all-time high, with a combination of long Covid and long NHS waiting lists primarily to blame.
Nearly all long Covid sufferers (98%) reported their ability to work had been negatively affected by the disease. Since diagnosis, 23% said they had have stopped full-time work, 12% had moved to part-time working and 19% had stopped working altogether.
The research also identified how long Covid is physically and mentally affecting this population. Three in five (59%) said they felt more tired, 42% said long Covid had reduced their physical strength, 37% said the post-viral symptoms had diminished their concentration, and one in five (19%) said they were in physical pain when working.
With regards to the psychological and emotional impact, 31% cited long Covid had left them feeling more anxious, while one in five (21%) felt it had reduced their confidence at work.
Worryingly, the survey highlighted a clear lack of effective support from employers for workers who are diagnosed with long Covid, especially as time went on.
More workers felt they were being supported poorly by their employer now (16%) than felt their employer had supported them poorly when they were first diagnosed (13%).
‘Dragging themselves into work’
Three in five (61%) of those suffering admitted they were “dragging themselves into work as they have no choice”. Nearly half of those struggling felt like they couldn’t ask for the time off or request the support they needed because their employer “doesn’t understand their condition”.
For some long Covid workers, the only option had been to change job (17%). Seven per cent had changed their employer for one that could offer more flexibility and/or compassion.
I have lost friends, work and my self-image as the indestructible young person I was supposed to be.” – Meredith Leston, 28, on the impact of long Covid
A similar percentage (6%) had changed their work to do something more within their limitations. The majority of respondents (67%) felt it was vital for a company to have compassion for those working with long Covid.
Those aged 35 and over said physical issues had most affected their work, with 65% citing fatigue, the same percentage lower energy and 52% feel weaker.
For those aged 16 to 34, the impact had been more psychological. One in four young people (23%) said long Covid had negatively affected their confidence, compared to 20% of those aged over 35.
Young people cited feeling less confident (23%), less connected with colleagues (14%), less ambitious because of their reduced capabilities (28%) and, finally, less hopeful for potential career opportunities (32%).
Effect on younger workers
One such worker, Meredith Leston, 28, who has been suffering from long Covid for two-and-half years, said: “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.”
Rachel Suff, senior wellbeing adviser for the CIPD, highlighted how its own research had shown one in four 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,” she said.
“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,” Suff added.
Danny Stacy, senior talent advisor at Indeed, said: “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.”