“Well-being amongst university employees fell between May and September 2020, and increased loneliness and an inability to detach from work accounted for this.”
This is a key result from Professor Wood’s study of well-being amongst university employees, academics and non-academics, working at home during the pandemic.
Employees completed a diary study over a four-week periods, at two periods of 2020, May (n= 831) and September (n=492). This enabled a comparison of the results over the two periods. The study was in two universities; there were no differences in the average well-being levels between them.
Weekly fluctuations in well-being in May were affected by a range of job, homeworking and Covid-19 factors. Factors beneficial for well-being included job autonomy, social support, psychological detachment from work. Factors detrimental to well-being included: work–nonwork conflict, loneliness, increases in Covid-19 death rates and job insecurity. Older workers were more affected by Covid-19 deaths than younger ones.
The same factors explain the fluctuations in weekly well-being in the second period. With an important exception: the higher the job demands the lower the well-being. Also Covid-19 deaths did not affect well-being in September.
The variation between people or average level over the weeks was in the first wave explained by fewer factors; job autonomy, psychological detachment, loneliness, and job insecurity. These remained significant in the second wave with the important exception of job autonomy. This is important as it means the crucial factors are highly connected to homeworking and the pandemic.
Even more significant, the average level of well-being declined between Spring and early Autumn. A decline in psychological detachment and increased loneliness account for this. Neither a decline in job security and child care responsibilities constraining work could compensate sufficiently for these effects.
The results highlight the downside of homeworking.
36% reported high demands in phase 2, compared with 27% in phase 1.
As many as 30 per cent were lonely some, often or all the time in phase 1, whereas the figure for phase 2 was 36%.
40% in phase 1 and 48% in phase 2 reported that they were never or rarely able to not think about work at all i.e., detach from work?
41% in phase 1 and 37% in phase experienced job insecurity some, often or all the time in phase 1, phase 2 respectively.
51% reported feeling anxious some, often or all the time in phase 1, whereas the figure for phase 2 was 60%
Professor Stephen Wood is Professor of Management at the University of Leicester School of Business