Occupational health assessments are becoming one of the most important tools in the armoury for supporting employees with long Covid, research has suggested.
The annual health and wellbeing at work survey from the CIPD and insurer Simplyhealth has found that just under half of organisations (46%) have employees who have experienced or are experiencing long Covid (or symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more) in the previous 12 months.
The vast majority were taking steps to support employees struggling to recover from the virus, with occupational health assessments one of the most common approaches used, along with tailored support and promoting flexible working.
The survey of 804 HR professionals also showed how OH has become more important generally, and higher profile, as employers continue to work to manage Covid-19.
Among employers already engaging with health and wellbeing activity, more than a quarter (27%) said they were now using greater involvement of OH specialists as an additional way to support employee health.
The ongoing impact of the pandemic remained the key workplace health conversation, the research highlighted.
Two-thirds (66%) of the HR professionals polled said they were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health – and nearly a quarter (24%) of HR professionals stated that Covid-related anxiety was among the top-three causes of workplace stress in their organisation.
A third of organisations (33%) had increased their budget for wellbeing benefits as a consequence of the pandemic.
Despite this, the report concluded the number of HR professionals who felt wellbeing was on the agenda of senior leaders had actually fallen, from 75% to 70% in the past year, perhaps because of the range of other competing pressures now on leaders as we emerge from the pandemic.
There had also been a drop in the proportion of HR professionals who felt senior leaders encourage a focus on mental wellbeing through their actions and behaviours, falling from 48% in 2021 to 42% in 2022.
Similarly, there had been a decrease in respondents who said managers had ‘bought into’ the importance of wellbeing, dropping from 67% in 2021 to 60% for 2022.
Rachel Suff, CIPD senior employment relations adviser, said: “Not only is Covid still with us, it has exacerbated existing health and wellbeing challenges and created new ones, like long Covid.
“So, while the drop may be small at this point, it’s still a concern that some senior leaders are starting to pay less attention to health and wellbeing – particularly when the last two years have proven how important it is to organisational resilience.
“Senior leaders have a defining influence on their organisation’s culture and it’s in their gift to shape an environment where people feel safe to speak up about health issues and seek support,” she added.
The report also showed that levels of stress – which organisations have long grappled with – still remain high, with 79% of respondents reporting some form of stress-related absence in their organisation last year, rising to 90% for large organisations.
Unhealthy trends linked to poor wellbeing were still commonplace too. Nearly two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they were aware of some form of leaveism (such as using annual leave to work) in their organisation and 81% said they had observed presenteeism (working when ill) among those working from home.