"As post-Covid syndrome - or ‘long Covid’ - creates fresh challenges for employers across the UK, we review the current situation and outline how Aviva’s Covid-19 Work Support Service could make a difference."
Matt Smith, Aviva Rehabilitation Manager
All-time record for UK recruitment difficulties
Where are the workers? It’s been exceptionally tough out there for recruitment agencies and employers. Right now, the numbers reflect what everybody knows. For example, the British Chambers of Commerce reported that staff recruitment remains incredibly difficult, with hospitality and construction workers in very short supply. And across all sectors, it’s a record employee drought: the proportion of firms reporting difficulties filling roles reached a historical high in Q4 2021 of 79%, up from 77% in the previous quarter1. Although Covid-related disruption and the absence of foreign nationals were cited as major causes, digging deeper into the statistics, it’s important to consider the role ‘long Covid’ could be playing here and to weigh-up the potential solutions.
Long Covid's huge impact on the UK
Basically, long Covid has wide-ranging symptoms, from breathlessness to chronic fatigue, to what’s been described as ‘brain fog’. None of these conditions encourage a productive day at work. So, what is the hard evidence that long Covid is having a major impact on the UK economy? Recent statistics from the ONS2 show the sheer scale of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus infection in the UK. An estimated 1.3 million people living in private households in the UK (2.1% of the population) were experiencing long Covid symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after their first suspected coronavirus infection as of 2 January 2022. The sheer scale of the problem has affected a significant proportion of the workforce, just when ‘people power’ is needed the most.
Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals' experience of long Covid (50% of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by shortness of breath (37%), loss of smell (37%), and loss of taste (28%).
Defining long Covid remains a big issue
As a proportion of the UK population, prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, therefore disrupting the lives of mature employees more than younger workers. The next question is: what exactly is long Covid? It’s an issue that has perplexed the medical profession and the insurance industry, which share a mutual interest in objective, science-based information. But defining long Covid continues to present multiple issues. In very simple terms, although it might walk like a duck and look like a duck, it might not necessarily be a duck. So how does any of this help employers get people back to work? Aviva Group Income Protection policies - which can run alongside workplace pension benefits - could provide a solution.
How Aviva Group Income Protection makes a difference
Group Income Protection benefits work like this: when an employee is unable to work due to an illness or injury, resulting in a loss of earnings, Aviva will pay the employer a proportion of the employee’s monthly income after a defined deferred period.
We complement our Group Income Protection cover with added value benefits, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, annual health check and many other wellbeing initiatives. This includes specialist intervention and rehabilitation support to help employees struggling with the effects of long Covid. In 2021 88% of employees with long Covid that returned to work with our support did so before a claim even began.
A proportion of these employees were referred to the Covid-19 Work Support Service - provided by our rehabilitation partner Working To Wellbeing – a team of healthcare professionals who aim to improve the wellbeing of people with chronic, long-term health conditions, support them to remain at work or return when ready. It’s here that long Covid’s ongoing symptoms, such as severe fatigue, can be addressed. The holistic interventions cover the mental, physical, and occupational aspects of an employee’s condition. Aviva’s experienced and dedicated rehabilitation team has developed its expertise over many years and is positioned to support employees recovering from long Covid, specifically those undergoing a difficult convalescence.
Broadly, early intervention and rehabilitation services for employees can help prevent long-term absence, or even absence in the first place, providing vital support from vocational and clinical experts. These services can come at no additional cost to employers and offer substantial benefits. Employees feel supported, which can aid motivation, morale and ultimately staff retention. By the time employers have factored-in the cost of hiring temporary replacement workers, the potential value of policies like these becomes apparent.
1 . British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Recruitment Outlook (13 January 2022)
2. Office for National Statistics (3 February 2022)