From the months of February to early June, employees transitioned from working in the office to working from home. This changed work-life dynamics for many employees. However, the biggest changes were for employees with children or elderly relatives at home. This remote work transition required employees to adapt to the new norm for work environments and had a large impact on a few key aspects:
1. Wellbeing & Productivity
2. Gender disparities
3. Support for parents
Wellbeing & Productivity
Juggling work life and family care was already a challenge for many employeed parents. When the pandemic forced closure of schools and daycares, this challenge significantly increased as well. A global survey found that employees who are parents faced more exposure to stress and mental anxiety in comparison to other employees. In fact, 40% of employed parents experienced increased levels of stress at a rate double the national average.1
Some of the stress can be attributed to safety fears as 69% employees reported being worried about the possibility of contracting the virus at work.1 This is a pertinent concern for employees who are parents to young children and even employees who reside with elderly dependents (e.g., parents and grandparents).
The increase in stress can also be attributed to the disturbance in normal work-family dynamics.2 As the boundaries between work and personal space become blurred for parents, working longer hours and productivity has quickly become a top concern.1 The longer working hours can be attributed to the increase in family care time that most employees with children are facing.3 This is a prevalent issue to employee productivity as a recent survey found that when working from home, compared to the average employee, 52% of working parents take more time to achieve the same productivity pre-COVID-19.1
Gender disparities are an important thing to consider in regard to changes in work-family dynamics due to prevailing stereotypical social roles. Although there have been large campaigns to decrease the gender disparities in family care over the years, the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.
A survey found that in households where both parents are working, fathers have increased the amount of time they spend on housework and childcare post pandemic. However, even then, mothers are still spending two to three times more time on family care than fathers.3 This has disproportionately reduced an average female’s work hours by four to five times more than their counterparts and subsequently increased the gender disparity in work hours by around 20% to 50%.4
On a larger scale, these gender disparities are translating to preferences for remote work as well. Data has shown that 85% of women would prefer to work from home at least 50% of the time. This is a larger proportion than their male counterparts (75%).1
Support for parents
With the pandemic changing nearly all aspects of daily life, companies need to accommodate employee’s concerns and preferences to maintain a loyal employee base and better manage productivity levels. An important thing to reevaluate, therefore, is an organisation's person-environment (P-E) fit. This fit is based on the theory,which proposes that outcomes are optimised when personal needs are in alignment with the environment they’re in.5
Research has shown that this pandemic has created a strong link between a parent’s wellbeing and their children.6 As organisations plan for wellbeing intervention for their employees, considerations need to be taken for employees who are parents to young children and even employees who reside with elderly dependents. Accommodating and adapting organisational policies to fit employee needs, although daunting at first, has been known to increase employee satisfaction and productivity.5
Everyone has had to adapt to the new societal changes as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The research collated suggests that employees' concerns have evolved and adapted to the new norm. Specifically, it suggests that gender, and the unique needs of employees with children and elderly parents to care for, are important considerations when relooking an organisation’s P-E fit. Therefore it’s important for organisations to adapt and re-evaluate company rules and guidelines to make accommodations to these evolving changes and better meet their employees’ preferences and needs.
By Sadrish Pradhan