Long COVID (LC) is a debilitating illness with complex and dynamic symptoms, affecting all aspects of personal and work life. The process and implications of returning to work following chronic illness have been considered across various conditions; however, published literature exploring LC is sparse. Person-environment fit (PEF) theory has been used to unpick the employer-worker dynamic in the process of returning to work, providing an analytical framework that offers both an understanding of and practical means for supporting this process with a view towards a positive outcome for both parties. We apply this framework to NHS workers suffering LC, utilising PEF theory as a lens through which to provide a sociological perspective for interrogating experiences of returning to and remaining at work, while experiencing symptoms that are often fluctuating, complex and debilitating. Findings are based on a longitudinal, in-depth interview study, exploring impacts of LC on 50 NHS Scotland workers in clinical or ancillary roles. This study highlights the importance and interplay of key factors facilitating successful return to work: improvements in symptoms; specific supports and understanding; workplace flexibility; and considerations around professional role and identity. Understanding and addressing these factors is imperative, as around 10,000 NHS employees in UK are off work because of their LC, at a time of acute crisis in the NHS with understaffing and unprecedented demand. Key outcomes around how workplaces must adapt to facilitate reintegration of workers experiencing LC are discussed, and some additions to theory are proposed to allow for further application to understanding the impact of LC upon return to work.


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MacIver, E., Norman Adams, N., Kennedy, C., Douglas, F., Skåtun, D., Hernandez Santiago, V., Torrance, N. & Grant, A. 2023, 'Understanding and supporting NHS employees with long COVID return to and remain in work: key barriers and facilitators', 2023 Annual conference of the British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Study Group (BSA MedSoc 2023). https://rgu-repository.worktribe.com/output/2113460/understanding-and-supporting-nhs-employees-with-long-covid-return-to-and-remain-in-work-key-barriers-and-facilitators

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Last updated: 17 October 2023
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