Work-life balance of academics during lockdown
I will start this blog by stating the obvious, the outbreak of Covid-19 prompted fast and drastic changes to our lives and work-life balance, particularly during lockdown. The increased inequalities it created are much less obvious, and not necessarily easy to quantify and address. In the last few months we have experienced first-hand and/or read about the challenges faced by academics with children who had the extra demand of childcare and/or home-schooling responsibilities , and that (once again) women were worse off due to higher share of childcare and housework , impacting research productivity the most . Most of our understanding of how academics’ lives have been affected during lockdown was gained from few individual experiences, our own, our colleagues’ or shared online [for example, 4]. Although we can learn qualitative information from these personal experiences, quantitative data are needed if we want to have a better picture of the effects on the wider academic community.
There is not a lot of data available about the work-life balance of academics under lockdown. Here I share results from a survey distributed online between the end of April and early June 2020. The survey was a collaborative effort with colleagues from Bournemouth University (BU). Results based on responses from BU staff are summarised in a report , which you can read here, and in a serious of blogs, including the 10 lessons learned that are widely applicable to the higher education sector and beyond.
Here we explore results from one question that asks how work-life balance changed during lockdown to reflect on: data interpretations and limitations, how perceptions might be influenced by partial information, and the need to consider both qualitative and quantitative data to gain a better understanding of the results. This was a multiple-choice question with eight response options, which you can see on the bottom left graph. A total of 194 responses were received, 145 from female respondents, 46 from male respondents and 3 prefer not to say. The other graphs show the results in a simplified form by aggregating the three options that indicate work-life balance ‘got worse’ and the three options that indicate work-life balance ‘improved’. You might be surprised by some of the results. Some key points to highlight:
- Work-life balance during lockdown got worse for 57% and improved for 39% of all respondents (top left). Situation is slightly worse for UK than non-UK respondents, but differences are not statistically significant (top right).
- During lockdown, work-life balance worsened for >50% respondents in all groups analysed, except male respondents; work-life balance worsened for 46% of them and improved for 48% (the highest proportion of all groups).
- However, responses were not significantly dependent on gender, when both all data and UK-only respondents (bottom right) were analysed, age group or whether the household includes children (under 19-yrs old) or young children (under 5-yrs old).
- The only statistically significant association found was related to household size, with respondents in larger households (3 or more people) more likely to have experienced worsened work-life balance and households of 3 people appearing more conducive of improved work-life balance (top centre).
- Increased workload was the most frequent reason for worsened work-life balance for female respondents, while males indicated that they couldn’t work much. The most common reason for improved work-life balance of female respondents was that things slowed down despite no reduction in workload, and for males was that they could do what was needed and be at home/with family (bottom left).
It is clear then that the lockdown did add pressure on the work-life balance of most respondents but was also favourable to many. These data show that work-life balance worsened for a larger proportion of females than males and improved for a larger proportion of males than females. As expected, the data also show that conditions have been the least favourable for academics who live with children, particularly young ones. It is perhaps surprising that some of the differences were not greater or statistically significant. Partly this may be due to differences in the number of male and female respondents (so we need to stimulate more men to contribute to this type of survey). Partly it may be due to men more likely than women to perceive and report that their domestic responsibilities are negatively impacting their jobs despite spending less time on these duties, as shows a recent report from King’s College London .
I can’t deny that part of me wants to believe that the data do show that conditions are more levelled and differences due to gender, age etc. have reduced. Then I remember the comments respondents have provided to the open questions. These qualitative data offer rich insights on the person’s feelings and reasons behind their particular response to a multiple-choice question. These comments show that respondents from all groups have been deeply affected (positively or negatively) by the lockdown for many different reasons. It is their compounded effect that will determine whether someone’s work-life balance was a positive or negative change. This is already a long blog so I’ll stop here, but you can read the findings from other questions and the qualitative data on the report I mentioned above  or wait for the next blog.
 Lloyd, R. (2020) Six ways to juggle science and childcare from home. Nature 580, 673-675, available from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01060-x.
 King’s College London (25 June 2020) Women doing more childcare under lockdown but men more likely to feel their jobs are suffering. Spotlight on research, https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/women-doing-more-childcare-under-lockdown-but-men-more-likely-to-feel-their-jobs-are-suffering.
 Fazackerley, A. (2020) Women’s research plummets during lockdown – but articles from men increase, available from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/may/12/womens-research-plummets-during-lockdown-but-articles-from-men-increase.
 Arnold, C. (11 Aug 2020) Coronavirus lockdown lessons from single-parent scientists. Nature Career Feature, available from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02387-1.
 Esteves, L.S., Ashencaen, S. and Hemingway, A. (2020) Impacts of C-19 lockdown on the work-life balance of BU academics, available from http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/34070/.Posted on: 04/09/2020, by : Luciana Esteves