Coping with Work and Childcare during COVID-19: Exploring Employees’ Ability to Balance Work and Caregiving during a Global Pandemic

Gover, Laura | $23,477

British Columbia Vancouver Island University 2021 SSHRC

The ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic has radically changed the Canadian workplace and negatively impacted the mental health of working Canadians, particularly those with children at home (MHCC, 2020; Morneau Shepell, 2020). Researchers have studied how people in different situations are experiencing work throughout this viral pandemic (e.g., Caldas et al., 2021; Fu et al., 2021; Shockley et al., 2021) and argue that Canada is unprepared for the predicted post-COVID mental health crisis (Thomas physical distancing’ measures including: (1) province-wide lockdowns of non-essential businesses which has required many to work-from-home, and (2) closing daycares and schools necessitating a shift to online or hybrid learning formats. These policies have differentially impacted workers. Essential frontline workers’ (individuals who work outside of their home and interact with the public while providing services and functions considered essential to preserving life and basic societal functioning) are now at increased risk of exposure to COVID‑19 at work. Emergency teleworkers’, individuals who have been mandated to work from home, may now be challenged to meet productivity expectations while working from home in non-optimal spaces/with insufficient technology.

Parents of school-aged children are facing an additional set of unpredictable work-life challenges that can be linked to COVID‑19 related policies and restrictions which require them to spend more time in parenting than before (Leclerc, 2020). Many Canadians must now balance the requirements of a stressful job (i.e., the demands from which may have changed because of the pandemic) with the needs of their children, and their partner (who may now be unemployed/working from home). Reports suggest that achieving some form of work-life balance is especially difficult for employed mothers, who report performing a disproportionate level of parental tasks compared to fathers (Leclerc, 2020). Others note that the pandemic is negatively impacting working mothers’ mental health/career outcomes (Prados gender; employer supports, provincial policies) have on which coping strategies are/are not effective? A multi-method longitudinal approach will be used to investigate these research questions. This research builds on our 2021 COVID‑19 Employee Wellbeing Survey (n = 20,000 responses). We propose to conduct interviews and collect additional survey data from a sample of employed parents drawn from the 6,000 survey respondents who volunteered to participate in follow-up studies. The sample will be selected (i.e., essential frontline vs. emergency teleworker, high stress vs. low stress, male vs. female) to allow us to answer the questions driving our research.

Exploration of work-life issues in an extreme case scenario will allow us to uncover rich data on our phenomena of interest and advance work-life theory. Identifying the keys to successful coping among employed Canadian parents will allow us to make policy recommendations on how to better support employed parents post pandemic which may mitigate some of the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic.

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