Essential but unexpected, under-protected, and undervalued COVID heroes: Individual-work-family triangulation of frontline retail workers

Wu, Haorui | $43,086

Nova Scotia Dalhousie University 2021 SSHRC

The rapid spread of the COVID‑19 pandemic across the globe has unveiled an acute appreciation of the contribution of essential workers in societal functioning (e.g., healthcare, critical goods, and critical infrastructure).1 While citizens actively salute healthcare professionals within the traditional healthcare domains,2 other non-healthcare frontline workers, who work outside these realms, such as frontline retail workers (FRWs),3 who directly work with clients and service users, are often given less attention.4,5,6 These essential frontline workers’ are engaged in public and private roles that place them “at risk” due to conflicting responsibilities and obligations in the COVID‑19 pandemic that form a unique individual-work-family triangulation, unfavourably impacting themselves and their families’ wellness.20 A nuanced understanding of their various challenges within this triangulation remains significantly lacking in research, practice, and policy decision-making. This gap in understanding not only jeopardizes the development of evidence-based strategies meant to improve the emergency response plans at individual, family, institutional, and societal levels, but also threatens the promotion of social justice, social cohesion, and community social development, as well as the achievement of community resilience and sustainability.21

Focusing on FRWs, as the unexpected, under-protected, and undervalued COVID heroes across Canada, this project aims to promote research, practice, and decision-making in the fields of hazards and disaster research and social work, by comprehensively measuring the FRWs’ individual-work-family challenges during the COVID‑19 pandemic. The study employs an emerging-established scholar partnership approach: the applicant (an emerging researcher specializing in hazards and disaster research), Dr. Haorui Wu, Canada Research Chair in Community Resilience at Dalhousie University, is working with the co-applicant (a senior researcher specializing in community social development), Dr. Julie Drolet, Professor of Social Work at the University of Calgary. This interdisciplinary collaboration will integrate both specializations to achieve the following twofold contributions: (1) conduct an online survey with FRWs to systematically examine the coronavirus-specific challenges that FRWs confront in the workplace, while endeavouring to protect themselves and their families and fulfilling their private and public obligations; analyse the impacts of these challenges on their own and their families’ overall well-being and resilience capacity during the pandemic; and provide empirical evidence to apply at both workplace and home to assist them to manage the current crisis and potential future extreme events. (2) conduct virtual workshops with relevant industry managers, public health officials, policy decision-makers, and other key stakeholders in order to generate actionable recommendations stemming from the survey findings that will inform policy, practice, training, and resources needed to support FRWs.

Merging the principles and methodologies from the fields of hazards and disaster research and social work, this project will contribute new knowledge and understanding by collecting time-sensitive data on FRWs’ individual-work-family challenges during the COVID‑19 pandemic. It is anticipated that the findings will enable the retail and relevant industry sectors and policy makers to improve workplace conditions for essential frontline retail workers, inform better emergency response plans, and identify supports to better meet private and public obligations in the current and prospective emergency scenarios.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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