Things to do

  • Read up on long COVID. The more you know about the symptoms, how it feels and the care your colleague might require, the easier it will be to support them. Leila* says: “Managers would benefit from training and courses on post-COVID syndrome so they understand what we are going through.”
  • Show empathy. A lack of empathy from Leila’s colleagues made her feel isolated: “They need to remember to have empathy. We’re not just a figure in the staffing. We’re not just at home doing nothing.” Try to put yourself in your colleague’s position. Imagine how you might feel if you were experiencing unexplained symptoms, didn’t know when you would feel better, and were unable to return to work.  
  • Send your best wishes. Colleagues keeping in touch informally and sending flowers helped nurse Michelle* feel supported during the months she has been confined to her home with severe symptoms.
  • Be an active listener. Some nurses have reported feeling ignored. Provide space for your colleague to share their experiences without being interrupted or judged.
  • Believe them. Letting your colleague know that you believe them and acting upon what they say can make a huge difference.
    Treat them as an individual. Everyone experiences COVID-19 differently. Just because you or a friend recovered quickly, that does not mean everyone will have a smooth recovery.
  • Share resources. During the worst periods of fatigue and pain, it can be difficult to advocate for yourself. Stick up for your colleague and pass on useful resources.
  • Change the subject. Avoid making every conversation about their health – ask about TV, food, hobbies, mutual friends. “I asked friends and family not to ask me how I was,” says Natasha*. “Telling people over and over that I still hadn’t recovered was difficult.”
  • Accommodate adjustments. Follow workplace policies regarding sickness absence and phased returns and respect your colleague’s right to not discuss this outside official meetings. Accommodate adjustments put in place to help them return to work.

Things to avoid

  • Don’t comment on their appearance. Having people tell her “you look well” or “you’re a good colour” when she was feeling awful made Michelle feel disbelieved.
  • Don’t press for personal details. Intrusive questions about the details of her illness and how it has affected her family made Michelle feel uncomfortable. 
  • Don’t make uninvited medical assessments. Leila was left feeling scared and unsupported when a colleague told her she did not need a phased return to work.
  • Avoid toxic positivity. Michelle had colleagues tell her off for “being too negative”. Don’t tell someone how they should be feeling, even if you mean well.
  • Don’t take out your stress on them. Many workplaces are understaffed and this is a huge issue. However, it is not your colleague’s fault that they are unable to work right now. Leila was shouted at by colleagues when her fatigue and chest pain meant she was unable to come in. When she most needed kindness, she was left feeling anxious and isolated.
*Names have been changed.
 
Words by Rachael Healy.
Illustrations by Andrea Ucini.

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