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Support employees returning to work who have been directly impacted by coronavirus

Do you want to support your employees who have been impacted by coronavirus in the best way possible? Here are some useful tips from our Society Matron, Cheryl Lythgoe.

Most of the people who contract coronavirus will recover with no long-term implications and will require no workplace adjustments. However, there is a small number of people who will require additional support and a more radical return to work approach.

Research published shows that 29% of those who contract COVID-19 go on to develop some level of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). It is thought that a third of those most severely affected by ARDS never fully return to work. This emphasises the need to ensure that a personalised return to work plan is developed that provides flexibility for your employees in both the structure and timing of their working day.

This blog will explore:

 What should employers do for employees impacted by coronavirus?

• How to adjust working conditions

• How to help employees return to work

• How to help employees manage their finances

• Tips to help employees manage their physical and mental health

• How to manage the stumbling blocks of supporting employees

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What should employers do for employees impacted by coronavirus?

As an employer it is worth considering the following:

• Is everyone in your business aware of the symptoms of COVID-19? Are they clear on the actions they need to take including how to report sickness, their sick pay entitlement and any additional cleaning requirements? If they are not clear, make sure you get a communication detailing this information out to them as soon as possible

•  For those who are still based in their usual place of work, ensure social distancing rules are being maintained throughout your business including both work and rest areas. Follow government guidance on staggering shift patterns, avoiding peak travel times and reducing public face-to-face contact

•  Make sure employees have the most up to date knowledge and equipment to manage workspace cleanliness for both prevention and post-infection management

•  Make sure facilities and time are easily available for employees to carry out regular hand washing with soap, water and paper towels. If possible, provide hand sanitiser and tissues and encourage employees to use them at their workstations

•  Be aware of those colleagues who would be classed as vulnerable, or more at risk, and ensure appropriate action is taken

•  Use your extended resources for accredited information and guidance. Public Health, Department of Health, Government, HSE, ACAS, Occupational Health, GP’s and NHS111 all have relevant information that can be useful to employees

How should you adjust working conditions for those impacted by coronavirus?

After any viral infection, and it seems common with COVID-19, it is not unusual to be left with a prolonged feeling of lethargy. For many this may mean energy levels take some time to return to normal which may impact upon their ability to fulfil full-time work commitments. 

Where possible consider the following adjustments:

•  Carry out a health assessment before they return to work to make sure workplace adjustments are made

•  The current nationally recognised period of working from home may help the post-infection colleague. Wherever possible supporting the working from home option may well cause less stress and more flexibility within the working day – all of this may help with post infection fatigue. It could also beneficial to the employee to phase their return to work, so they can gradually build up to their normal task delivery and allotted hours

•  Adopting a phased return of working hours, days and workload will allow a gradual return into the team supporting both the employee and employer

•  Consider adjusting the type of work required. For example, if the role includes heavy manual labour can light duties be given for a protected period?

How to help employees return to work after contracting coronavirus

For anyone returning to work, the experience can be mired by a myriad of emails and correspondence, regardless of whether they’re returning from a holiday or sickness. Endless email trails, numerous ‘c.c.’d.’ content and ‘just for information’ correspondence can often overwhelm and cause not only loss of productivity, but also frustration and added stress. Try to limit and avoid this through developing departmental briefings, a clear list of priorities and encouraging an honest conversation to set expectations.

Provide return to work colleagues with time to acclimatise and prioritise, with designated adjustment time where appropriate.

How to help employees manage their finances when they return to work after contracting coronavirus

For some people sickness can be financially challenging and getting reduced pay when sick can affect a person’s recovery. Consider the following actions to support your colleagues with their finances:

•  Have a visible, accessible, and clear sick pay policy

•  Provide a debt counselling service as part of your employee benefits offering

•  Offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

•  Do you have access to any charitable trusts that can assist in moments of financial hardship? If so, make sure your employees are aware of how they can access it

Top tips for helping employees manage their physical and mental health when recovering from coronavirus

Some people recovering from COVID-19 may suffer a temporary or permanent drop in lung function, which can impact on their productivity, energy, and mental wellbeing. Make sure this is considered when reviewing any working practices and make changes where appropriate.

Some anecdotal evidence also suggests there can be a residual period of muscle aches combined with the tiredness. For those who are employed in a manual job, lighter duties may support the recovery process. For desk-based colleagues, it may be worthwhile providing guidance on desk-based stretching and encouraging a gentle walk throughout the working day.

It isn’t uncommon for people to have increased anxiety when returning to work following a period of absence, especially in the current health crisis. For those colleagues who are very anxious about returning to work, ensure a thorough health and safety risk assessment is carried out. This will support both the business and the colleague in ensuring the environment is a safe place to work.

Consider looking at staffing ratios and business need too. Can the colleague work from home? Are they essential to the business running? Could the colleague use some annual leave to boost their recuperative period?

Remember to make not only the post-infection colleagues, but also the wider workforce, aware of any mental health support you have in place, such as mental health first aiders, professional mental health services and your GP providers.

Benenden Healthcare for Business includes a 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, where employees can speak to qualified therapists and the additional support they may need.

How to manage the stumbling blocks of supporting employees that have been impacted by coronavirus

As COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus, our medical knowledge and modelling is always evolving with new evidence, data and management strategies being published all the time.

It is currently thought that once COVID-19 has been contracted, the body builds an immune response preventing people from re-contracting the virus. However, with the lack of current national widespread testing and the use of symptoms to diagnose, ‘relapse’ or ‘reinfection’ may happen. With this in mind, employers must be guided by their employee’s symptoms and ability to perform their roles. If an employee is struggling, maybe reconsider working hours, pace, or duties.

Consider the impact of return to work on the wider workforce too. Is this likely to raise anxiety or pressure amongst colleagues? With the return to work colleague’s permission, it may be worthwhile letting the wider workforce know the current expectations and any limitations this colleague may have.

Managing COVID-19 requires a self-isolation period for those infected and often for their close families. Consideration and adjustment would need to be made for those colleagues who still have family members in isolation or are carers for the vulnerable.

As with any illness, a person’s response and recovery is very individual therefore for any employer the principles and processes must be individualised and flexible providing tangible guidance and support.

Benenden Health has produced a coronavirus hub, with more tips and information about how to stay healthy as a business and individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also outlines any changes or enhancements to our services in response to the global pandemic.

Visit the COVID-19 hub for more information.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees

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