Changes to work and impact on the family after Long Covid

Here we describe how families were affected by changes to parents’ work which were brought about by Long Covid. This section includes the experiences of families where: a parent and a child had Long Covid, a parent had Long Covid, or a child had Long Covid. The impact of Long Covid on work more generally is described on the ‘Long Covid in Adults’ site.

This section covers:

  • Long Covid and managing work and family responsibilities
  • Impacts on work and family when parents had Long Covid
  • Impacts on work and family when children or teenagers had Long Covid
  • Jobs with more flexibility which made life easier
  • Strategies families used when jobs were less flexible

Long Covid and managing work and family responsibilities

Paid work allowed parents to provide for their family and plan for the future. However, when someone in the family had Long Covid it usually became harder to juggle work and family responsibilities.

Lindsey got a supermarket job to help family finances. Her wife who had Long Covid was left alone caring for their toddler who also had Long Covid.

Juggling work and Long Covid in the family was also especially difficult for single parents, single-earner families and families who did not have the support of extended family close-by. Sara’s migrant worker status meant she felt that she had no choice but to continue working.

Sara feared her UK work visa would be cancelled, and her family would have to leave the country, if she did not make progress with work projects.

Impacts on work and family when parents had Long Covid

We spoke to parents who were no longer able to work because of their Long Covid. Hazeem had stopped working in a shop because he could not manage the heavy lifting required. He was worried about the future and considering other jobs he could manage instead. He said: “you can’t only survive on the little bit of money which the Government provides you for living. I have a kid I have to think about.” Sara continued to work but said it was a struggle and affected the way she was as a parent.

Sara was exhausted after a few hours at work. She felt like she wasn’t a supportive or patient parent when she went home.

Impacts on work and family when children or teenagers had Long Covid

Parents also spoke about the impact of their child’s Long Covid on their work and how they tried to balance working and caring. Gracie needed 24-hour care which meant her mother was not in paid employment. To help with the financial implications of this, Gracie’s mum had switched to an interest-only mortgage but said she worried about that: “when am I going to be able to go back to work full-time to be… caught up with that mortgage?” Catherine and Danie also both spoke about how their work and finances had been affected by them working less in order to care for their children with Long Covid.

After time off work with stress, Catherine worked reduced hours. She passed up opportunities for promotion and wondered if her long shifts were hindering her son’s recovery.

Two-parent families were often able to share looking after the children and the household. Emma A said her husband was sometimes able to work from home: “yesterday I decided Bella couldn’t go to school and I really needed to go for a walk and so he worked from home until 12:00pm and that was okay, I don’t think it would be okay every day but it was okay”. Beth and her husband also “had to share the time off” work to look after their daughter when she was unwell.

Danie said she and her husband juggled work and her daughter’s Long Covid. Her husband worked from home three days a week which meant he could be “relatively flexible”. She went to their daughter’s hospital appointments though, because “you don’t know how long you’re going to be there for”, and while at home her husband did “the other stuff like cooking”.

A couple of children spoke about the impact of their illness on their parents’ employment. For example, Daisy said her father’s business had suffered as a result of him taking time off with her: “there’s only so much work he can do, and they were already behind as it is, now because of me and, like, I feel guilty for it but, I couldn’t help it, you know?” Daisy also said that her mum had had to take time off sick from work because “she’s trying to work and I’m on the floor and infirm and I can’t do anything, and I then need hot water bottles and screaming out in pain [and] she can’t focus [on work] through that”. Gracie said that she would “love” for her mum to go back to work. When her mum said that she couldn’t “go anywhere or commit to anything” because of Gracie’s Long Covid, Gracie said that this made her “feel bad”.

Jobs with more flexibility made life easier

In our interviews people said that managing with work, family and Long Covid was made easier when at least one parent had a job with an element of flexibility. This included flexibility to work from home, change their hours (e.g. work in the evenings) or change their tasks/job role to better suit the changes that had taken place in their health or within their family due to their child’s health. Such flexibility helped parents to care for unwell children at home during the day, to attend medical appointments (their own and/or their children’s), and to keep working while managing the impacts of their symptoms.

Sasha’s husband owned a business and was able to step back from work, allowing Sasha to care for their daughter while he cared for their sons.

Emma A’s colleagues supported her to work evenings from home so she could care for her daughter during the day.

Single parent Claire had used all her annual and sick leave. She was relieved when her employer agreed to change her role to something more manageable.

Strategies families used when jobs were less flexible

It was harder for families to manage work and Long Covid when their jobs were less flexible. A few people we spoke to said they were forced to use annual leave and then unpaid leave to take time away from work, either to manage their own symptoms or care for their child. A few also chose to leave their jobs and find more flexible ones instead.

Beth’s annual leave could only be taken at fixed times. Her husband was using his leave to cover days when their daughter was too unwell for school.

Lindsey’s supermarket employers docked her pay for absence while her son was hospitalised. She was happy to find a job working from home with better conditions.

Even if workplaces had policies to support employees to modify their work due to illness, some people still found it difficult to disclose what was going on. Megan described not wanting to be seen as ‘weak’ in her male-dominated industry.

Megan, a young person in her mid-20s with Long Covid, felt uncomfortable telling her co-workers why she was taking time off.

You can hear more about the financial impact of Long Covid in ‘Financial impact of Long Covid in the family’.