Long Covid and work

Long Covid affected people’s working lives in different ways. Some people were not working at the time of the interview. Other people were still able to work. Some needed time off after getting Covid, and then returned on a part-time basis, at least to start with. This could help them to manage their health day to day and support their recovery.

This page covers:

  • The impacts of Long Covid symptoms on work
  • The impacts of work on Long Covid symptoms
  • Helpful and unhelpful employer responses to people with Long Covid
  • Changes at work to help manage Long Covid symptoms
  • Uncertainty about work in the future

The impacts of Long Covid symptoms on work

People who had been back at work since having Long Covid told us about how they found some things very difficult. Some had difficulties with using a computer screen or sitting upright at a desk for long periods. People with ‘brain fog’ could find it difficult to do any mentally demanding tasks, like making decisions or putting their thoughts into words. Chris said, “I wasn’t anywhere as efficient”. Ellis felt frustrated from not being as “sharp” as normal because “that side of me is impaired.” The impact of their symptoms affected people’s confidence in their ability to do their job and took away some of the enjoyment of work.

Rowan found it difficult to remember some conversations with colleagues. They worried about making decisions without checking with others first.

Robert found it particularly challenging to carry out his job as a chef after losing his sense of taste and smell. He described losing some of the pleasure of his job.

Charley said they played down their symptoms at work because they wanted to appear professional and like they can still “do a good job.”

The impacts of work on Long Covid symptoms

Work can be very important for people and can have positive health and other benefits. However, some people thought in hindsight that going back to work before being fully ready may have caused setbacks in their recovery. Casey tried going back to work after four weeks off but they “just absolutely crashed after a few weeks [and] that was when I realised that I was going to have to take a long period of time off”. Some people said they had tried to return to work too early because they wanted to get back to ‘normal’ or for practical reasons or because they felt that they had no choice. Remi had no option but to return to work when their sick leave ended. They said dealing with work and their symptoms was “really distressing”.

Robin went back to work when they were still unwell. They wanted to get back to some normality. When they felt unwell at work, they found it difficult to explain to colleagues.

Cam tried a phased return to work and “scraped along for two and a half months” before they realised “I’m making myself worse.”

Drew pushed themselves at work because they “wanted to see a progression.” They described stretching themselves like on a piece of elastic and being pulled “right the way back” by their symptoms.

Sometimes it was healthcare professionals who strongly advised people that they needed to take time off work or to take more time off if going back to work had caused their symptoms to worsen again. Oli said their GP advised them to take at least twelve months off work and to be prepared for “not going back [to work] in the same capacity.” Wynn tried twice to go back to work gradually.

It was a nurse who advised Wynn to stop working because “you’re making more damage and then you’re going back to where you were before.”

Some people described the process of providing their employer with regular sick lines as stressful. Arden actually said it was one of the very hard things to deal with because of the uncertainty of what their symptoms would be like.

Bobbie wished their GP had signed them off work for six months. They found the process of renewing their sick line every 6-8 weeks “soul destroying” and “really difficult.”

Changes at work to help manage Long Covid symptoms

People told us about changes they had made to try to manage their work alongside their Long Covid symptoms. Pat had to change their job role. Some people had to reduce their hours or work flexible hours so they could ‘pace’ themselves or stop when they felt unwell.

Pat used to enjoy their ‘difficult’ job working on complex projects. They find it ‘painful’ that they can no longer lead the team of people they brought together.

Rowan learned that four hours of work was the maximum they could manage with having Long Covid.

Some people experienced worsening symptoms despite having made changes to try to protect their health at work.

Rae finds they are very fatigued in the evenings after starting and finishing work later than usual to try to manage Long Covid symptoms.

Nicky spent non-work time recovering from symptoms which were made worse by doing their work. This meant they were able to spend less time on other things, such as socialising.

Helpful and unhelpful employer responses to people with Long Covid

Because of the newness of Long Covid, people spoke about employers being unsure how to handle it and not having sick leave or occupational health policies which take account of Long Covid. People also said that the unpredictable and variable nature of Long Covid made it hard for people with Long Covid to predict how much work they could do from one week to the next and for workplaces to plan for employees with the condition.

Taylor found it frustrating that their employer has no policies “that fit” Long Covid. Their questions have often gone unanswered, or they have had to go looking for the answers themselves.

There were people we spoke to who said they felt well supported by their employer in trying to manage their Long Covid symptoms at work. We spoke to people whose workplaces offered adjustments that might help, such as working from home, changing hours, changing roles, and taking frequent breaks. It made a huge positive difference to people when they felt believed and supported by their employer. Riley said: “I’m very lucky actually that management has not questioned anything, they’ve been 100% supportive, which has been a huge relief and it makes a big difference”. The support of family, friends, and healthcare professionals was also important in enabling some people to return to work.

Morgan’s employer was supportive and agreed a phased return to work.

Rae’s employers were supportive. They encouraged them to only complete as much work as they were able to each week.

A neuropsychologist helped Nicky to achieve their goal of returning to work. They learned to be easier on themself and tried to accept that when they returned to work was beyond her control.

Unfortunately, other people reported less positive experiences with their employer. Some felt there was a lack of understanding of the support that people with Long Covid need when they return to work because it is an ‘invisible’ condition. Bobbie said it was “hard to take” the fact that, other than decreasing their working days, no adjustments were being made to accommodate their Long Covid at work. They said: “Because if I’d gone back to work in a wheelchair, obviously adjustments would be made. So, I do feel it’s almost like a disability, but there’s no adjustments that will be made for it.” Ellis and Taylor voiced similar concerns.

Ellis felt there was a complete lack of understanding at work because Long Covid is a hidden disability.

Taylor offered to show management at work their symptom diary to help them understand what daily life with Long Covid is like. They were annoyed when management initially said they didn’t want to see the diary.

Others felt their need for time off was being questioned and doubted by employers. Arden found it stressful dealing with the uncertainty of their symptoms and said their line manager seemed to imply that maybe they were trying to take advantage of the system. Ali was dismissed from their job after having Covid.

Ali felt ‘abandoned’ and let down by their employer. Although they felt sad about leaving work, they felt too ill to fight and chose instead to focus their energy on getting better.


Uncertainty about work in the future

People told us they had worried about whether they would ever be able to fully return to work and how they would cope, including financially, if they couldn’t go back to their previous job roles. Find out more about people’s thoughts about the future.

Terry worried their symptoms would end a career they enjoyed and had worked hard for.

Oli said they felt like a failure for not working and was coming to terms with the possibility of not working like they did in the past.

Drew was made redundant after being off sick and not managing a phased return. Although this was upsetting at the time, looking back they realised that stopping work had allowed them to start getting better.