Return to Work after Covid – Support for Individuals

This guide was originally developed by the VRA for the My Covid Recovery NHS pages and contains useful guidance to support people returning to work after Covid.

 

Stay in touch with your workplace!

Doing the right kind of work is good for your mental and physical health, even if you have a health condition.

When you are ill, work might be the last thing on your mind, but keeping your manager in the loop is one of the most helpful things you can do – both for you and your employer.

Staying connected means that you don’t lose touch with what is happening at work; it also helps your manager plan for how to manage in your absence and how to help you when you are able to return.

Talk to your Manager:

Do this early and don’t wait until you have recovered

Your recovery will include building up your stamina and ability to do your normal day to day activities, including the activities you do at work. There may be things you are still able to do during your recovery – even very small things – and if you wait until you are fully recovered before talking to your manager about your plans to return, you might miss a valuable opportunity to take a step-by-step approach to your return, as and when you are able to do so.

Talking to your employer can help you both understand:

  • How your employer can help you
  • What work activities you can do
  • What changes might be needed, and when.

Returning to work

Getting back to work is a positive step in your recovery. Work can bring back a sense of normality and financial stability. It gives us back our normal routine and our day-to-day social contacts with friends at work. Research shows[1] that even doing a small amount of work can really lift our mood.

If you are recovering from COVID, it can sometimes leave you feeling tired and not able to do a full day’s work. You may want to go back to work but feel nervous about doing your job well enough, and worried about how people might react – it’s quite common to feel too well to stay at home and yet not quite well enough to take on everything at work.

Taking it Step-by-Step

One way to deal with this fatigue is to “pace” yourself. That is, take a step-by-step approach to build your stamina while you ease yourself back into work, one step at a time.

Pacing yourself can be a really successful way to get back to work while you recover, and if this is something that you are interested in, speak to your manager about it. Together you can explore how to match the work that needs to be done with your energy levels, and as you recover, you can gradually build your work activities to match your increased stamina.

For instance, you might decide that while you are not fully recovered, there are still some things that you can do. Even if it is just doing some light reading to keep up to date on what is happening at work, or joining online meetings, this can help you stay connected with your workmates, and with life outside your home.

Your first day back at work is often the hardest to plan for, as you might not know exactly what to expect. So it can really help if you make this initial return as comfortable as possible. Once you are back at work you can then take small steps forward, gradually increasing your workload in line with your recovery.

What is a ‘flexible’ return-to-work-plan?

This is a plan that you and your manager can draw up between yourselves; it describes how, when and where you can work, and what your work duties you can do during your recovery.

This might include temporary changes to your hours, your duties, or your workplace. You might need to change certain bits of your job, and you might also need help getting to work or some different tools to help you do your job.

A flexible return to work plan helps you find a comfortable level to start back at work, and then builds up your hours and duties along with your strength and stamina.

As you recover, your need for these arrangements will change. The key is to write a plan that can change with you, and to build in review dates. That way, you can make sure it is still working for you, or decide whether it is still needed.

Getting Additional Help

If your situation is more complicated, there are places you and your manager can go to for help. Check if these services are available at your workplace:

  • If you need more help with your recovery, your employer may be able to call upon an Occupational Health service, get an Occupational Therapy assessment, attend a physiotherapy service or a counselling service
  • Your employer may have a return-to-work service provided by their insurer for people who are off sick.
  • Your employer could also get return-to-work advice directly from a .

Your manager is probably the best person to check this out on your behalf, or your HR department.

Other ways your employer can support you

Your employer can support you in a number of ways while you are off work and when you return.

Make time to talk to your manager about your company’s sickness absence policies. That way you will both know what is expected of each of you.

If you will need to take time off for appointments, you should mention this to your manager as well, and try to include this as part of your return-to-work plan.

Try to tell your employer as far in advance as possible when you need time off and it may help if you can arrange appointments for the start or the end of the day.

On the financial side of things, you’ll want to know how your employer is handling your time off work – it might be treated as:

  • Sickness absence
  • Reduced working hours
  • Approved unpaid leave
  • Paid or unpaid compassionate leave.

Your manager can let you know about any support schemes mentioned above that they offer.

Some employers also offer services to help you deal with any personal, financial or legal problems that may be affecting your work. These are called employee assistance programmes (EAP).

What if I don’t feel supported by my employer?

If you are still experiencing ongoing symptoms as a result of your COVID illness, you may need to modify some aspects of your job to help you return.

Most employers will be keen to help their staff back to work after a period of illness, but should you encounter any problems, it is important to know your rights and to discuss these with your employer.

You can find more information about your rights as an employee here.

If you need additional help, further COVID related employment advice is available through the government funded Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

 

Government & Health Services

My GP gave me a Fit for Work Note – What do I do with it?

A “fit note” is an advisory note from your GP which you can share with your employer. It lets your manager know if your GP advises that you can work or not, and if so whether you would require any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you successfully return to work. ‘Reasonable Adjustments’ are any tweaks or changes to your job that would be needed while you are still recovering – and your GP’s recommendations here may help you design your flexible return to work plan.

It’s not binding, but it can be very helpful, especially if there are parts of your job which would be difficult to do right at the beginning of your return. Talk to your GP, let them know what your job consists of, and they can assess what they think it is ok for you to do safely now.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government programme for people living in England, Scotland and Wales. It can help you or your employer if you have a long-term health condition that affects the way you do your job. It gives advice and practical support to meet extra costs that may arise because of your health.

The scheme may pay for:

  • Special aids and equipment needed in the workplace as a direct result of your condition
  • Travel to and from work if you can’t use public transport
  • A support worker to help you in the workplace.

The Important Take-Aways:

  • Stay in touch with your employer
  • Build-in work activities as part of your recovery, not afterwards
  • Draw up a flexible return-to-work plan with your manager
  • Find out – and use – what services your employer already has.

 

Additional resources from the VRA are available here and you can find details of VRA members who offer a range of services here and here.

We wish you a speedy recovery and safe return to work following COVID-19!

The VRA

[1] Kamerāde, D, Wang, S, Buchell, B, Balderson, U and Coutts, A 2019, ‘A shorter working week for everyone : how much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?’ , Social Science and Medicine . (Online first) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.06.006