Business & Community
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) continues to impact the lives of billions of people worldwide. Nearly every individual, young or old, can identify ways that COVID-19 changed their lives. Numerous reports outline the lasting impacts and disruptions the pandemic caused on individuals and families. Not only has COVID-19 impacted people’s personal lives, but it brought about rapid changes throughout the workforce. While a great deal of attention has been given to food insecurity and health risks associated with the pandemic, not enough attention has been given to its impact on the workforce, especially for women and people of color.
Impact on Workers
Although the economy is slowly recovering, COVID-19 caused several visible and lasting impacts within the workforce. The Economic Policy Institute noted that COVID-19 has caused three main groups of workers to emerge:
- workers who lost their jobs and faced economic insecurity.
- essential workers who faced health insecurity.
- workers who work from the safety of their homes.
Service sectors with a high concentration of female workers (e.g., restaurants, retail, hospitality, and health care) were the hardest hit. Female workers either lost their jobs, left their jobs, or reduced their work hours because of COVID-19 far more than male workers.
COVID-19 and Child Care
COVID-19 caused a reduction in childcare options that directly impacted the workforce. As a result of pandemic-related school closings, many workers were faced with:
- working remotely while juggling child care.
- returning to work with fewer hours because of limited or no available childcare provider.
- quitting work due to childcare challenges.
Many individuals forced to reduce work hours were low-wage females and single mothers. Females were more likely to work remotely while caring for their children than males. White and wealthier females, however, were more likely to leave the workforce. In contrast, women of color and low-wage-earning females were more likely to change their work schedules and depend on alternative childcare solutions.
Women of color who are also low-wage workers and single mothers, disproportionately make up a significant number of essential workers. These workers are required to work with the public regardless of the associated risk. This not only puts them at a higher risk of contracting the disease but also puts their families at a much higher risk. Since being able to work without exposure to COVID-19 impacts female employment opportunities, many employers are increasingly more aware of childcare needs and the necessity for flexible work schedules.
Working from Home
COVID-19 also increased the number of individuals working remotely. Although many businesses are reopening, they continue to promote working from home. Companies recognize the need for flexibility relative to how workers work during this crisis and when things get back to “normal.” Working from home provides employees with more freedom and flexibility. For many workers, the increased freedom and flexibility caused them to prioritize balancing work, family, and personal life. This means finding new and different ways to separate work life from home life. This is a daunting task for some individuals. For workers who are caregivers and for workers with disabilities, working remotely from home is a welcomed opportunity.
Research shows, however, that the opportunity to work remotely from home is skewed towards men, workers that are better educated, workers with higher-paying jobs, and workers with higher-level skills. Unfortunately, people of color are less likely to have the option of working from home due to being heavily concentrated in low-paying jobs that are classified as essential workers.
Impact on Mental Health
In addition, COVID-19 has transformed the physical environment of the workplace. Many businesses are now going through a process called de-densification. De-densification refers to reducing office density or reducing the number of individuals in the office or workspace. Some companies rearranged their workspace while others rearranged work schedules to control the number of people within a space for “safe distancing.” Regrettably, some of the pandemic-related strategies used in the workplace to de-densify the work environment also led to an increase in mental health conditions in the workplace.
The absence of handshakes, informal chats, and other social activities increased loneliness among workers. Workplace loneliness impacts workers’ behavior, performance, and productivity. It also impacts workers’ mental and psychological health. Stressors, such as continuous exposure to COVID-19 news, uncertainty, school and daycare closures, working on the front line, and working from home, can cause persistent stress. It also leads to burnout or other mental issues for both individuals working remotely and individuals working on site. An environment where workers aren’t afraid to talk about mental health issues without being stigmatized is a growing need for companies due to COVID-19.
In conclusion, COVID-19 is transforming the workplace and the worker. It has caused many businesses to implement new and innovative ways of doing business while forcing workers to adapt and adjust to these workplace changes. The impact of COVID-19 has extended beyond the workplace to touch all aspects of workers’ lives. It also continues to influence both positive and negative changes in the work-life of individuals around the world.