Psychotherapist Noel McDermott is advising employers on how to detect whether a member of staff could be suffering from Long Covid, signs to look out for and how to fully support them. Being able to spot the signs and symptoms of Long Covid amongst employees will be crucial for workforces, enabling many employees to make a full and speedy recovery from psychological distress.

Noel McDermott explains:

“Long Covid is more akin to disability than a period of illness. Workplaces are likely to see a significant increase in anxiety-based problems or depression issues. There is likely to be significant health anxiety amongst staff returning to office-based work. In general, it’s best to take a back to work approach as you would for any period of anxiety-based illness absence. Over a month and a half bring staff back up to full duties and this should avoid most of the problems. This is called exposure-based therapy which is part of cognitive behavioural therapy. Provide information on risk management and offer short term counselling via your OH services where you have them to help people who don’t naturally adjust and develop coping mechanisms.”

 Red Flags – signs and symptoms of Long Covid:

  • periods of unexplained breathlessness
  • long term headaches
  • unexplained joint pain
  • unexplained fatigue, especially after exertion
  • sudden onset severe depression

In these cases, specialist services are needed, and the role of HR would be to support the staff member into those via their GP. Long Covid treatment is in the form of specialist rehabilitation services and it’s unlikely your Occupational Health service will cover this. It is crucial that HR teams will need to liaise with the specialist external services to look at either back to work planning after a leave of absence or reduced working hours.

Rise in mental health issues in the UK workforce post Covid

It’s important to note that other anxiety-based disorders, eating disorders, substance or alcohol misuse, obsessive compulsive disorders may present more and in more severe forms. Often this will look like a series of small absences, a day here, a day there over a period of time. It could be this pattern of absence has already been flagged, but if not it’s worth looking out for. It indicates a staff member is struggling with something acute, it could also be for example domestic abuse. This patten of relatively often but small amounts of absence should trigger relatively quickly an interview to find out what is going wrong.

Mental health related staff absences

In general anxiety is relatively easy to manage and treat and shouldn’t need any absence from work. In fact, being at work is often part of the treatment package. Depression similarly may be more significant in the workforce, high stress over a long time (for example a pandemic) can produce depressive symptoms. It will present as absence often and in the similar pattern of a day here a day there. It may also present as alcohol abuse as this is often how people try to manage this. Alcohol abuse can often be spotted in the persistent Monday off pattern of absence. Again, it’s important to have the interview about the problem as soon as it’s spotted and to put a treatment plan in place. As with anxiety there shouldn’t need to be any prolonged absence for treatment, which will be CBT and medication often, in fact being at work helps to reduce depression.

COVID-19 will affect only a tiny minority of the population, certainly in its more severe form, but it’s really important to look out for signs this may be present in your staff. Long Covid is likely only to affect those that were symptomatic and had quite serious COVID symptoms, although it can affect those that were asymptomatic, in those cases it’s likely to be much less severe and shorter lived. The sooner treatment is offered the sooner the member of staff gets better.


Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental HealthWorks Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home –


By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.