York research highlights work, labour issues for faculty and staff during pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces in Canada and around the world closed their facilities and moved employees to working from home. For some workers this was a seamless transition, while for others the shift was more difficult. The COVID Homeworking for University Staff Survey (CHUSS) is a project stemming from an international research collaboration investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the working arrangements of faculty and staff at universities. Researchers from 14 universities – seven in Australia and seven in Canada – are collaborating on this project.

The local research at York University was led by Kelly Pike, assistant professor, School of Human Resource Management, on behalf of the Global Labour Research Centre. Quantitative data analysis was led by James Chowhan, an assistant professor with the School of Human Resource Management.

A survey was conducted at the University in August/September 2020, and a report on those findings examined the impact of working from home by looking at factors including preferred arrangement of work, work expectations and personal satisfaction. Individual characteristics such as job role, gender, age, Indigeneity, visible minority, immigrant status, activity limitation and care responsibilities were also taken into consideration.

Black woman on a couch using a laptop

Of those at York University, 70 per cent of survey respondents reported an increase in stress, and 40 per cent a decrease in job satisfaction

The findings from York University indicate that most employees reported an increase in working from home (96.6 per cent) compared to before the pandemic (6.7 per cent). For many, the new arrangement was indicated as a preferred working arrangement post-pandemic (44.1 per cent). Working from home also highlighted insights such as: 45 per cent reported an increase in work interfering with personal life, 57 per cent agreed their workload was manageable; 52 per cent agreed that the University provided adequate support to enable work at home; and 70 per cent agreed with the statement, “It is clear what is expected of me in my job.” Additionally, 70 per cent reported an increase in stress, and 40 per cent a decrease in job satisfaction.

“This report is very timely indeed. As we try to imagine the post-pandemic University, it is invaluable to have insights into what our colleagues have been experiencing while we have been working from home,” said Ravi de Costa, associate dean, Research and Graduate Studies. “This is the first outcome of an international collaboration that will help us understand our own experience in comparison with other institutions in Canada and Australia. The insights should really help maximize engagement with the community.”

Angela Norwood, assistant professor of design in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, turned these key findings into a project for her students titled “Information Design for Understanding.” Second-year students used findings from the study to process web-based information into accurate displays of a poster and a website.

“The research, having been so recent and from participants on their own campus, personalized it for the students and reminded them that they are part of a larger community, all the members of which have had their particular university experiences disrupted also,” said Norwood.

As remote work arrangements during COVID-19 conditions persist, these disruptions in work and life can become more acute, and it will be important for University administrators to maintain an active dialogue to enable an understanding about how these concerns are progressing and whether issues are being effectively addressed.

Luann Gingrich, director, Global Labour and Research Centre (GLRC), said, "The GLRC is excited to host this project. The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to examine how we live and work, and to effect change. The findings from this report are of practical use for the wider York community, and we look forward to support research on pressing issues related to work and labour justice."

The report is available through the Global Labour Research Centre, along with a printable infographic depicting the data.

The research received ethics review and approval by the Human Participants Review Sub-Committee, York University’s Ethics Review Board, and conforms to the standards of the Canadian Tri-Council Research Ethics guidelines.

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