One in five homeworking university staff ‘struggles to do job’

Some find it difficult to make decisions on their own off-campus, survey suggests

November 24, 2020
No cushion when uncertainty hits well-being, ‘cognitive stress’ can rise
Source: Getty
No cushion when uncertainty hits well-being, ‘cognitive stress’ can rise

One in five university staff working at home because of the coronavirus crisis reports having trouble deciding how to proceed with their work.

A team led by Stephen Wood, professor of management at the University of Leicester, analysed questionnaire responses and weekly diary entries from 835 university employees, both academic and professional, across two institutions following the switch to homeworking as a result of the pandemic.

The researchers found that 21 per cent of respondents could not decide how to go about doing their work, while 15 per cent said they found it hard to make many decisions on their own.

The researchers reported that external influences, such as insufficient information or pending directions from managers, could impede employees’ ability to perform key tasks.

Fourteen per cent of staff were hampered because their work would normally take place in a laboratory or was dependent on being on the campus.

But a quarter – 25.9 per cent – said the competing demands of work and domestic duties, including childcare, had taken a toll on their well-being, and 20 per cent experienced non-work-related interference “often or very often”.

About 38 per cent of homeworkers reported feeling anxious most or all the time during the early stages of the UK’s first lockdown earlier this year, with 8 per cent saying they felt depressed.

Nearly one in five, 17 per cent, reported feeling lonely, and 26 per cent felt their jobs were insecure some, most or all the time.

“Increased job insecurity, the unpredictability of future workloads, new ways of working and a lack of support from employers all contributed to lower levels of well-being among staff,” Professor Wood said.

“Some of these well-being effects knock on to concentration or decision-making. Some people call it cognitive stress – it affects their ability to concentrate and make decisions. We’re not talking about massive effects, but it is still there on performance variables, from the uncertainty.”

While some of the issues identified in the research were not necessarily related specifically to the coronavirus crisis, such as loneliness and juggling domestic duties, “homeworking during the pandemic is distinctive”, Professor Wood said.

This was because working from home has been forced on staff, many of whom might not have been prepared for it, amid great anxiety that they, or their family and friends, might catch the virus. On top of this, the economic fallout had led to feelings of job insecurity, he said.

Professor Wood explained that the pandemic has contributed to short-term fluctuations in the well-being of employees working at home, “but the factors that affect all jobs – the extent of job discretion, potential loneliness of working alone, and job insecurity – remain important and will remain so after the pandemic”.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Work from home can be dead end

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Reader's comments (4)

What has a woman in red high heels bending over a couch got to do with this article? I know its cheap and efficient using stock photos, but come on? Explain to us what this has to do with mental health and well-being of people?
No link to the original research? Well done
Meanwhile in some Universities admin staff, including some who are severely clinically vulnerable, are being forced back on to campus by 'power tripping' bullying managers, even though they are not in staff/student/public facing roles. Covid has exposed and continues to expose many of the shortfalls in University (mis)management, H.R. are going to be very busy dealing with the fall-out for sometime to come...
I don't understand the stock photo in the context of the article. Is she looking for loose change?

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