A Deloitte’s survey finds that the pandemic hits female professionals’ mental health and work-life balance in some peculiar ‘perfect storm’. The Deloitte’s “Women @ Work” survey was released recently. It was conducted with 5,000 high fliers in 10 countries around the globe. This includes 500 female white-collar workers in the UK. The pandemic has seen British female professionals suffer a huge hit to their work-life balance and overall wellbeing. A new survey […]
The report found the Covid-19 pandemic, with its home-working and long periods of home-schooling, has taken “a heavy toll on women’s wellbeing, motivation and careers”.
Researchers for the “big four” firm found that just 31% of British professional women surveyed believe they have a good work-life balance today, down from 71% pre-Covid.
Around 40% of respondents said that they are the chief provider of childcare in their home. And nearly a third said they live with a partner who does not want to share the load with any household management.
Just 27% of those surveyed felt they have “good” mental health – down sharply from 68% pre-pandemic.
Half of women surveyed said their relationship with their employer had suffered as a result of increased caring responsibilities, such as childcare, with 48% admitting they felt burned out.
A stark 59% said they are less optimistic about their career prospects post-pandemic, with 24% considering leaving the workforce altogether.
Increased workload and caregiving responsibilities are the top reasons why women in the UK would consider leaving paid employment. Overall, the survey concluded that “workloads and household responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are driving deep dissatisfaction among many women in the workforce”.
Businesses are already looking to rebuild their workplaces. But as the pandemic hits female professionals’ mental health and work-life balance, it is the organisations that prioritise diversity and inclusion in their policies and culture – and provide tangible support for the women in their workforces – that will be more resilient against future disruptions.
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Shifting to remote work should not be the only focus of work redesign. A policy declaring that people must work remotely, or even one saying they can work whenever and wherever they want can have issues. It can easily become pressure to work longer hours and be available 24/7—leading to burnout over time.
There are two important elements of the initiative studied by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen. The are; training managers to shift how they approached their roles and how they can help their teams to identify and reduce low-value work.
First, managers need to express support of employees’ personal lives and to clearly articulate performance goals and expectations. This help managers to focus on monitoring results rather than “face time” at the office.
Secondly, structured team discussions helped overloaded employees identify changes they could make as individuals and teams. This work redesign approach ultimately changed everyday work practices. Such as, reducing the number of meetings or the number of people required to attend them, and increasing the ability to work remotely. It also help with the identification of low-value work that teams can reduce and still hold work hours steady.
These changes improved well-being and work/life integration for employees and managers. There was an increase in job satisfaction, and the company benefited from reduced costs associated with turnover among valuable employees.
But such benefits arise only when employees feel they can choose where and when they work – not by mandating some particular mix of remote and in-office work. It is also critical that managers and coworkers respect workers’ personal and family situations. In other words, the benefits documented come not from a policy allowing remote work per se, but from gaining a sense of control and support.
No One Size Fits All
The exact mix or blend of remote and in-office work may depend on the work being done and the personal lives of the workforce, but working at home exclusively only works well for some employees and roles. However, the research shows that having some say in when, where, and how they work is highly valued by many employees, and can be good for a company’s bottom line.
The work redesign approach deployed in this study did not set up formal policies laying out how much time was expected in the office. It does not also require individuals to get permission from their managers to work from home. Instead, it encourages regular conversations about how people hoped to work and how the team could coordinate to do its best work. Thereby, setting the stage for adaptable and customized ways of working.
This is the perfect moment to launch a work redesign initiative like the one researched. This can be done by inviting teams to discuss and learn from how they adapted during the pandemic and how they struggled, and to imagine what might work well for them. Erin and Phyllis created free training resources from their study, including a facilitator’s guide to implementing this kind of work redesign program.
Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Phyllis Moen holds the McKnight endowed presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota. They are the authors of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.
Emotional stress, including “stress from lack of control in the workplace or from life events,” creates susceptibility to physical illness. This was affirmed twenty years ago in a British Medical Journal article as summarized here by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Giving employees more control over their jobs does more than just reduce stress-related illness. It also decreases employee mortality. The key is empowering them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision making and … have a voice in the goal-setting process.
Giving employees a chance to help shape the future of work will give them more skin in the game. It will deepen their connection to an organization. Finally, it gives them a sense of job ownership and control and will improve their well-being while benefiting the organization.