What workers can tell us about post-COVID workability

Jennifer Lunt, Sally Hemming, Kim Burton, James Elander, Amy Baraniak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The apparent functional impact of post-COVID-19 syndrome has workability implications for large segments of the working-age population.

AIMS: To understand obstacles and enablers around self-reported workability of workers following COVID-19, to better guide sustainable workplace accommodations.

METHODS: An exploratory online survey comprising quantitative and qualitative questions was disseminated via social media and industry networks between December 2020 and February 2021, yielding usable responses from 145 workers. Qualitative data were subjected to content analysis.

RESULTS: Over half of the sample (64%) were from the health, social care, and education sectors. Just under 15% had returned to work, and 53% and 50% reported their physical and psychological workability respectively as moderate at best. Leading workability obstacles were multi-level, comprising fatigue, the interaction between symptoms and job, lack of control over job pressures, inappropriate sickness absence management policies, and lack of COVID-aware organizational cultures. Self-management support, modified work, flexible co-developed graded return-to-work planning, and improved line management competency were advocated as key enablers.

CONCLUSIONS: Assuming appropriate medical management of any pathophysiological complications of COVID-19, maintaining or regaining post-COVID workability might reasonably follow a typical biopsychosocial framework enhanced to cater to the fluctuating nature of the symptoms. This should entail flexible, regularly reviewed and longer-term return-to-work planning addressing multi-level workability obstacles, co-developed between workers and line managers, with support from human resources, occupational health professionals (OHP's), and a COVID-aware organizational culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
JournalOccupational Medicine
Volume74
Issue number1
Early online date15 Aug 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

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