A global online survey conducted by the German Physical Society’s AKC working group for equal opportunities has examined the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on work-life balance. The AKC represents the interests of female graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), in particular physicists, at all stages of their careers in both academia and industry. More than 1500 people, the majority from Europe, took part in the survey between mid-April and the end of June 2020. 70 percent of respondents hold an academic position and 72 percent have a background in STEM disciplines. Dr.-Ing. Pınar Bilge of the Institute of Machine Tools and Factory Management at TU Berlin was involved in running the study. Here, she reports on its findings.
Dr. Bilge, what were, in your opinion, the most significant findings regarding work-life balance during the pandemic?
The key stress factors when working from home were the lack of a clear divide between professional and family life, and a feeling of isolation. Particularly significant from my point of view was the fact that female respondents rated these stress factors significantly higher than male respondents, and that what people most missed was communication with managers and colleagues.
The most commonly occurring term in free-text fields was “too little work-life balance,” followed by “homeschooling,” and “emotional and mental problems.” Despite a high level of satisfaction with the work of their staff, management suffered greater stress when working from home than those in non-managerial positions.
What are the reasons for this?
Conflicts between domestic and professional responsibilities lead to an imbalance between work and private life. However, technically this is an issue of time management. People who had poor time management skills before the pandemic find themselves confronted with even greater challenges. Prior to the pandemic, only 30 percent of the respondents used time management. 68 percent of these respondents said that their time management was working as well as before the pandemic. However, further analyses revealed that the majority of this sub-group are people who can set their own priorities (81 percent). This implies limited time management effectiveness for other groups.
Did you identify different assessments from female and male respondents?
Overall, people working in European research institutions and universities were primarily concerned about negative social impacts. By contrast, European males, particularly those working in industry, were mostly worried about a period of financial stagnation or recession following the pandemic.
How do the respondents expect circumstances to change in the long run?
Analyses of free-text answers reveal two groups: One convinced that the pandemic represents a chance to reform remote working and distance learning and a second group that fears that an increased use of information and communication technologies may lead to existing working instruments and methods being replaced. 40 percent of all respondents are worried about losing their jobs and 35 percent, in other words about one third, are further worried about no longer being able to work from home after the pandemic. This was true for almost half of women academics in Europe and 26 percent of men.
How would you summarize your findings from this study? Are you planning to conduct further studies?
When working from home, the lack of a clear divide between professional and family life and the additional problem of homeschooling lead to stress, particularly among women. From this, we can also identify a particular challenge for people with management roles. As part of an effective change management, measures and goals planned for implementation need to be communicated at different levels within the team and work flexibly adjusted to reflect the individual needs of staff.
For our next project, Dr. Ruzin Ağanoglu, co-author of the study, co-founder and chief technology officer at Lab-on-Fiber GmbH, and AKC committee member, and I will be using a Kurt Lewin force field analysis to examine the driving and opposing forces for change management.
Interviewer: Christina Camier