Need to know:
- Long Covid can occur regardless of age or underlying health conditions, potentially affecting a large cross section of the working population, therefore no employer is immune to increased absence as a result of long-Covid conditions.
- Private medical insurance, health cash plans, occupational health, rehabilitation support, and group income protection will all be important in helping employees return to the workplace where possible.
- Social isolation is a concern where long Covid leads to enforced time off work. Opportunities for social inclusion, such as activities and workshops, and the provision of long-Covid support groups where experiences can be shared can be beneficial to recovery.
In spite of the shocking number of fatalities caused by Covid-19 (Coronavirus), for most people it is a mild disease from which they recover fairly quickly. For some, however, recovery is not so straightforward. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published in December 2020, one in five people with Covid-19 develop longer term symptoms, including fatigue, persistent pain and breathlessness, and significant health problems such as cardiovascular problems, long-term lung damage or kidney damage.
The condition known as long Covid can have a devastating impact on the lives of employees, raising questions about how employers can incorporate it into their health and wellbeing strategies.
Long Covid can occur regardless of age or underlying health conditions, says Steve Herbert, head of employee benefits at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing. “This could potentially be a problem for a far larger section of the working population, so no employer is necessarily immune to increased absence as a result of long Covid conditions,” he explains.
Long Covid will encourage employers to make their employee benefits offering much more robust by extending at least a basic level of support to all workers. “Private medical insurance, health cash plans, occupational health, rehabilitation support, and income protection will all be important here in hopefully speeding up a return to the workplace where possible,” Herbert says.
Employers’ health plans will need to cover a wide range of conditions, including mental health issues. It is inevitable that many employee benefits policies will need to be rewritten to include the new healthcare challenges arising from Covid-19, including long Covid, says Allyson Gayle, head of risk and healthcare at employee benefits consultants Premier.
“Employees are looking to their employers to offer solutions and benefits that support their everyday health, including Covid-related conditions,” she says. “Health cash plans covering long Covid and the mental, emotional and financial fallout of the condition are likely to become more prevalent as a result.
Direct financial measures, such as group income protection, should be considered in order to protect the workforce from a potential looming surge in long-Covid cases. “There is still work for insurers to do to reinforce the income protection solution, but it’s something employers must consider alongside existing healthcare provision,” says Gayle.
A key concern for those affected by long Covid and forced to remain off work for long periods is the impact of social isolation. Employer should, therefore, make social inclusion a cornerstone of their wellbeing proposition by enabling colleagues to remain connected to one another away from work-related meetings, says Gary Butterfield, co-founder and executive director of Everyday Juice.
“Opportunities for social inclusion could be tailored more to the wider organisational community, such as activities and workshops, or more focused towards support for those who are off work, for example, long Covid support groups where experiences can be shared,” he says.
An effective wellbeing strategy must be both scalable and accessible and underpinned by digital access.
Joe Gaunt, founder and chief executive officer of fitness business Hero, says: “With a digital wellbeing platform employees can access the in-person support and online tools and resources they need to enhance their health and wellbeing and deal with any potential longer-term effects of Covid-19.”
Proactivity is key and employers must act to respond to the challenges their workforce is facing. This will be vital to staff retention and recruitment.
“Employees are laser-focused on the quality of their health benefits because of Covid and are well aware of what’s on offer across their industry,” adds Gayle. “Employers which proactively offer benefits that provide in the event of long-Covid, as well as holistically for all related conditions, will be best placed to attract and retain top talent.”