The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that an estimated 2 million people are living with long COVID[i], and Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ People HR says employers need to put practical measures in places to support workers who may be suffering to avoid a rising absenteeism bill.

This comes after a new report from XpertHR[ii] highlighting that sickness absence rates are at their highest levels in a decade – 3.1% in 2021, up from 2.2% in 2020 during the pandemic, with figures at 4.4% in the public sector. This equates to an average employee being off sick for 7.3 days a year, costing a business £731 over the year.

Adrian Lewis says, “Long COVID is a serious issue that could be contributing to rising sick absence rates. Whilst some people feel that COVID is over and the workplace is returning to normal, others are very much still living with the consequences of the disease.

“Employers need to be mindful of this and look at ways they can support workers who are suffering with the symptoms of long COVID. If not, they could face people being off for extended periods, impacting their productivity and their bottom line, especially since many of those suffering are of working age and many may have symptoms for some long time.”

ONS found that the greatest prevalence of long COVID was in those aged 35 to 69 years old, and that of the people with self-reported long COVID 42% first had, or suspected they had COVID, at least one year previously and 376,000 (19%) at least two years previously.

Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported of long COVID (55%), followed by shortness of breath (32%), a cough (23%), and muscle ache (23%).

Adrian Lewis recommends that employers look at offering reduced or flexible hours to help workers manage symptoms such as fatigue. Also letting people work from home if they aren’t currently doing so, part of the week. This can cut commuting time and enable people to take breaks more easily.

Adrian adds, “Looking at ways they can help workers is essential in helping employees manage their symptoms and get better quicker. Hopefully long COVID is something people can get over with time, so easing the journey back to full health is beneficial for all. It can help ensure employers don’t see rising absenteeism in the future and avoid the additional costs this can bring.

“We also recommend that firms have the right systems in place to monitor their absence data, so they are able to spot people that are suffering with long COVID. Simple absence management technology will do this, giving managers insight and visibility over the workforce and see patterns in behaviour.

“The system also prompts return to work interviews, which give a safe space for manager and employee to discuss why they have been off sick and to signpost them to occupational health or other support if needed. Some people may not wish to draw attention to their symptoms, but if an employer shows they are caring and supportive this can make a big difference to how someone feels and ultimately aid recovery.”

Activ People HR offers cloud-based HR solutions, including Activ Appraisals to help businesses manage the appraisal process and Activ Absence for managing all absences including sick leave.

For more information on Active People HR visit: www.activpeoplehr.co.uk.


[i] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/1june2022

[ii] https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1789100/sickness-absence-rate-highest-decade-survey-data-shows