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More than 40% of women said remote working during pandemic impaired wellbeing — study

  • Date: Mon, Jun 20, 2022

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By Ian Curran, Irish Times

Photo caption: Homeworking at the height of the pandemic was associated with a big uptick productivity but also higher stress levels. Photograph: iStock

More than 40 per cent of women workers and a third of men reported working from home during the pandemic had impaired their mental health and wellbeing.

Homeworking was associated with a big uptick in reported employee productivity between March 2020 and May 2021, according to the preliminary findings of a new study by researchers at UCD’s Smurfit School of Business, based on a survey of more than 2,000 people of working age in paid employment across the State.

Read the full study here.

A majority of workers who responded to the UCD Working in Ireland Survey said their productivity improved, mostly because they were able to concentrate better at home. Some 21 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women, meanwhile, said the main reason they got more work done at home was because they didn’t have to spend time commuting in and out of the office.

These factors, “fused with increased effort levels” and longer working hours, meant that more than half of surveyed workers reported an increase in output during the period.

But this “intensification” of effort levels was also associated with “an increase in employees’ stress levels, an inability to disconnect from work, and a diminishment in their health and wellbeing”, the report’s authors Prof John Geary and Dr Maria Belizón noted.

The impact on women workers was “particularly stark”. More than 40 per cent of women employees said their mental health had declined while they were working from home, compared with a third of men — “a not inconsiderable proportion”. Women were also more likely to report that their physical health had deteriorated as had their personal relationships.

More intense work and higher stress levels “were not moderated” by specific attributes of the employee’s work, such as whether they enjoyed considerable job autonomy or whether relationships between employees and management were particularly good. One exception, however, was where employees were represented by a trade union recognised by management.

The report concluded that unions can play “an important role in moderating the more harmful effects of homeworking” but that the “challenges of doing so with a dispersed workforce are significant”.

Union membership

A separate set of findings from the study suggested that while union membership density has declined in Ireland over the past two decades, Irish people — particularly young workers and women — are positively disposed towards trade unions.

Union membership is “increasingly becoming a female phenomenon”, the researchers noted, with the growth in female participation in the labour force being matched by a growing number of women joining trade unions. There are now more women in trade unions in Ireland than men, according to the study. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of non-union members aged 16-24 would vote to establish a union in their workplace compared with 40 per cent of non-union workers generally.

However, the proportion of the workforce covered by collective bargaining has declined by 19 per cent since 2003, the study found. Some 16 per cent of former union members have let their membership lapse, meanwhile, with the highest levels of union participation observed in the public sector and the lowest levels in the hospitality sector.

This article was originally published in the Irish Times on Thursday, June 16, 2022 here.


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