Sustaining work ability amongst female professional workers with long COVID

Jennifer Lunt, Sally Hemming, James Elander, Kim Burton, Brad Hanney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Long COVID (LC) compromises work ability (WA). Female worker WA has been more adversely impacted than WA in men. Exploration of lived experiences could elucidate the WA support required. AIMS: To explore the working conditions and circumstances experienced as affecting sustained WA amongst female workers with LC, to help mitigate worklessness risks. METHODS: Online semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 10 female workers self-reporting or formally diagnosed with LC who had made some attempt to return to work (RTW). Interviews were analysed using template analysis to map themes informing WA enablers and obstacles onto a biopsychosocial model of rehabilitation. RESULTS: All participants were professionals working in an employed or self-employed capacity. Key themes reflecting circumstances that afforded sustained WA included the autonomy over where, when and how to work indicated as facilitated by a professional role, rapid health care access, predominantly sedentary work, competent colleagues able to cover for transient reduced WA, a strong interface between specialist health and management support, and accessible organizational policies that steer health management according to equity rather than equality. Highly flexible, iterative, co-produced RTW planning, tolerant of fluctuating symptom expression appears vital. In return for providing such flexibility, participants felt that employers' workforce diversity and competence would be protected and that workers would need to reciprocate flexibility. CONCLUSIONS: These qualitatively derived findings of workers' lived experiences add to existing guidance on supporting WA for people struggling with LC. Moreover, the same principles seem appropriate for tackling worklessness amongst working-age adults with complex long-term health conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-112
Number of pages9
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2024

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