You may have staff returning to work after being unwell with COVID-19. We know that every individual’s experience of COVID-19, and their recovery from it, will be unique to them. So there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach which can be taken on their return to work. Not everyone who has had Covid-19 will have experienced the most common symptoms (persistent cough, fever, and loss of smell and taste) particularly with the different variants. However, this doesn’t mean that they have had it less seriously or will recover more quickly. Many are likely to recover within a couple of weeks; but, some may take longer. They may experience lingering symptoms such as breathlessness, fatigue, aches and pains, blood pressure changes, and sleep disturbances, which may be with them for several months after the virus has cleared their system.
You are likely to have heard of long-lasting symptoms referred to as ‘long COVID’ or post-viral fatigue. People who have long COVID may feel exhausted, unsteady on their feet, and experience a general ‘brain-fog’, including difficulties in concentrating or remembering things, or a general lack of alertness as part of their continued recuperation. You can find more information on managing long COVID here.
Open and regular communication will be needed with the staff member prior to and during their return to work phase. The symptoms of long COVID can have ramifications for the type and amount of work people are capable of doing. Due to the length of time off work, they may have lost confidence in their skills and abilities. You may find it helpful to prepare for their return to work; a lot might have changed at work since your returning staff member was last in, so think about what they need to know. These changes are likely to be unsettling for the returning individual, especially as they may already be feeling a bit more anxious than normal due to experiencing ongoing symptoms. If they are feeling anxious, signpost them to the Daylight or Silvercloud apps.
It is important to take a flexible, phased approach with your staff; they’re going to need to pace themselves and they might need to redevelop their role in the team and confidence in their skills and abilities. Supporting them through this, giving them reassurance and showing empathy that you understand the difficulties that they are experiencing will have a positive impact on their return to work.
Take the time to meet with them on the day they return. Carry out the Return to Work conversation and orientate them to some of the changes – go over any new processes or procedures that have been put in place whilst they have been off and give them the opportunity to ask questions. You are both likely to find it helpful to check in with each other regularly during their phased return to ensure that they are managing their workload and are not over-doing it. By taking a flexible and inclusive approach and building in regular opportunities to review and adapt the approach, you will increase the likelihood of a productive and sustainable return to work.
The Society of Occupational Medicine has developed short, succinct, helpful guidance.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians have also produced some useful information.
Take time to read them if you can.
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