UCD Economics PhD Candidate Diane Pelly has won Main Conference Award for her presentation at the Newcastle Economics Research and Development Conference.
The paper 'The impact of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK on worker well-being and performance: a longitudinal study' was co-authored with Orla Doyle (UCD Economics), Liam Delaney (LSE), and Michael Daly (Maynooth).
What happens when workers with little or no previous experience of homeworking are
forced to work from home due to COVID-19 restrictions? This is one of the questions that
Diane Pelly, Michael Daly (Maynooth), Liam Delaney (LSE) and Orla Doyle (UCD) seek to
investigate in their paper “Worker well-being before and during the COVID-19 restrictions:
A longitudinal study in the UK”.
On the 23 rd of March 2020, the UK Prime Minister issued a statutory ban on leaving the
home, including commuting to work, unless individuals were unable to work from home.
The UK remained in full ‘lockdown’ for a period of 11 weeks. The authors use 2 waves of
novel pre- (November 2019 – February 2020) and during (May-June 2020) pandemic survey
data and a fixed effects model to estimate within-worker changes in the subjective well-
being and performance of 621 full time workers in the UK. They use 16 different metrics to
capture the trajectory of cognitive, emotional and psychological well-being and of self-rated
performance pre and during the first lockdown in the UK. In addition, they examine
heterogeneity around how lockdown is experienced by women, parents of young children
and people who worked from home during lockdown. In doing so, they exploit a dramatic
shift to homeworking due to COVID-19 restrictions. Prior to lockdown, just 2.5% of the
sample worked from home full-time versus 74% during lockdown.
They find significant changes in 9 of their 16 measures. Contrary to their prior expectations,
they find that, on balance, entering lockdown is associated with an improvement in well-
being. Happiness and life satisfaction levels remain broadly stable and there is no evidence
of a deterioration in mental health. The authors speculate that these findings may reflect
sample composition. The sample excludes self-employed workers and individuals who lost
their job due to COVID-19. It also contains a relatively low proportion of workers who are
physically or financially impacted by the pandemic. Alternatively, these findings may reflect
a process of psychological adaptation that has been well-documented in recent papers.
The authors find that entering lockdown is associated with a significant improvement in
psychological wellbeing. Workers are more engaged in their work and are less exhausted,
possibly due to the elimination or reduction in their commute. Somewhat counterintuitively
perhaps, workers feel closer to their colleagues and more emotionally attached to their
organisations than prior to lockdown. They also feel a greater sense of accomplishment
from work. However, the news is not all good. Workers also report reduced levels of
homelife satisfaction and a sharp deterioration in self-rated performance relative to the pre-
lockdown period. In contrast to other recent findings, the authors find that women in their
sample cope marginally better than men. They report a larger fall in negative emotions and
disengagement and a greater increase in autonomy during lockdown than men. Surprisingly,
the authors find very little evidence that parents of young children suffer more than non-
parents or parents of older children during children, although they do report a smaller fall in
disengagement. As for homeworkers, the authors find that while they experience a greater
fall in negative emotions experienced the previous working day during lockdown than non-
homeworkers, they also report a larger fall in performance. The data suggests that this may
be due to reduced motivation or work effort on the part of homeworkers.
The authors emphasise that caution is required when interpreting these findings. The results
are highly contextually dependent and reflect a very unique set of circumstances. While
they attempt to isolate the impact of COVID-19-induced homeworking from the impact of
the pandemic itself, it is impossible to completely disentangle the two shocks. It is also
important to acknowledge that working from home during ‘normal’ circumstances in not
equivalent to working from home during a pandemic when additional care responsibilities
structural supports are removed, and additional care responsibilities imposed. Being forced
to work from home is also likely to constitute a very different experience to actively
choosing to do so. There is currently very little research on what happens to well-being and
performance when workers who have not self-selected into homeworking and who may be
ill-suited to this style of working are compelled to do so. This study represents an important
step in this direction.
Diane would like to thank the NERD conference team for presenting her with the Main
Conference Award and to gratefully acknowledge funding from the IRC (GOIPG/ 2020/59)
and the UCD Behavioural Science Group.