A retail worker standing behind a counter wearing a mask.

The Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business funded five projects to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 on workplace inclusion.

It has been one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic. The introduction of related health and safety measures that followed drastically changed how and where we work.

At the time, the Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work (CRIW) at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business was set to announce the recipients of its annual research grants. The Centre realized quickly that the global pandemic was likely to have unequal impacts within workplaces and would make the impact of social inequities more visible.

“We quickly determined that a second call for research focused on COVID-19 inclusion and work was warranted, and, in spite of upheaval in their own lives, a number of colleagues rapidly developed and submitted proposals for innovative research projects,” said Merridee Bujaki, co-director of CRIW and professor of accounting.

With the support of the RBC Foundation, CRIW was able to fund five research projects examining the impacts of COVID-19 on workplace inclusion.

On March 10, the research teams of the five projects supported by this special funding presented preliminary findings at an event hosted by CRIW.

“We would like to make sure that people are aware of the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting different people differently – socially, economically, in terms of the opportunities they have,” said Merridee. “We want to highlight that the pandemic is hitting everyone differently depending on what you do.”

Screen captures of speakers Linda Schweitzer, Jen Kostuchuk, Katarina Lauch, Amrita Hari, Alan Cai, Chelsie Smith, Kathryne Dupré, and Nada ElnahlaScreen captures of speakers Linda Schweitzer, Jen Kostuchuk, Katarina Lauch, Amrita Hari, Alan Cai, Chelsie Smith, Kathryne Dupré, and Nada Elnahla

On March 10, 2021, researchers from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and collaborators presented preliminary findings from research examining the impacts of COVID-19 on workplace inclusion.

In concluding, Merridee asked the event’s large audience to ponder, “Where do we – as individuals, as colleagues, as organizations, as communities, as societies – go from here as we seek to foster a more inclusive world?”

The results of the five papers presented suggest some interesting answers. Read about the findings below.

Weathering the Storm Alone: Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on the Psychological and Job-Related Well-Being of Single Working Mothers

Research team: Angela Dionisi, Associate Professor, Management, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Kathryne Dupré, Associate Professor, Organizational Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Carleton University); Chelsie Smith, PhD in Management candidate, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University)

This study is examining how social isolation and physical distancing practices during the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the nature of work and are uniquely impacting the mental health and work engagement of single working mothers, who have lost the social and tangible supports they rely on to balance work and family demands.

The idea for this project came from the researchers’ reflections on how having romantic partners has supported them during the pandemic, and the climbing proportion of single-parent families in Canada, with women heading approximately 80 per cent of these households.

“It has been argued that women were, by and large, shouldering and slowly becoming buried under the ever-expanding list of household chores, childcare demands, and homeschooling duties all while trying to maintain their own work responsibilities,” Chelsie said.

Through this research, the team set out to answer two questions:

  • Are work-family demands being experienced by working mothers leading to greater levels of psychological distress depending on whether one is a sole parent or not? and,
  • What impact might these potential differences have on the ability of employed mothers to be engaged in their work?

The team focused their investigation on three main areas: work-family conflict, parenting stress, and engagement at work. They carried out a quantitative survey last summer with 206 mothers – of whom 102 had romantic partners and 104 did not – who have at least one dependent child under 12 years of age.

Their preliminary findings show that sole working mothers are disproportionately feeling the negative effects of the pandemic in ways that increase their vulnerability and the precariousness of their day-to-day lives.

Work-family conflict is increasing the parenting stress of sole working mothers, compared to mothers with romantic partners who are less affected. They also found that parenting stress, from the increased needs of children and lack of childcare at this time, is impacting the job performance of sole working mothers.

“Our study has begun to uncover a lost narrative amidst the discussion of the challenges of work and family during the pandemic, and especially that of sole working mothers,” Chelsie said.

These findings point to two key implications for organizations. Work-family conflict should be a serious concern for all organizations as it is related to stress and lower engagement in work among all working mothers. During the pandemic, the negative impacts of work-family conflict have been greater for sole working mothers, affecting their well-being and work engagement. Over time, this could result in lower job performance and job security for this vulnerable population. Organizations should prioritize resources that can help to bolster work-life balance and support for sole working mothers during this time.

The Changing Nature of Work Due to COVID-19

Research team: Linda Schweitzer, Professor, Management, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Sean Lyons, Professor of Leadership and Management, Gordon S. Lang School of Business (University of Guelph); Katarina Lauch, PhD in Management candidate, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Jen Kostuchuk MA Candidate (University of Victoria)

This project is investigating what working at home through the COVID-19 pandemic reveals about the future of working. Specifically, the study explores challenges and benefits associated with remote work during the pandemic and moving forward; the current challenges and benefits associated with remote work during the pandemic; the potential challenges and benefits of remote work in the future; and, how the integration of roles affects work and home.

The team had planned to interview up to 30 Canadians working from home during the pandemic. They used social media to promote their call for participants and within 48 hours had over 60 responses.

The team grew to include: Sophia Krystek, MSc in Management candidate, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Rachel Barton-Bridges, MA candidate (University of Victoria), and Kelly MacDonald, PhD candidate (University of Guelph).

In total, the team conducted 56 interviews and 39 follow-up interviews.  One broad theme emerged: all participants were seeking to establish a sense of order during this chaotic time.

“Our participants were engaged in sensemaking,” Linda said. “They were reconstructing their work lives with respect to when, where and how they’re working – as well as the integration of the roles of work and home.”

Through their conversations, the researchers concluded that while the working from home integration has come with some challenges – such as difficulty in mentally separating work and personal lives, and a depletion in maintaining privacy with co-workers – most participants appreciated the new normal that they had to create for themselves. They appreciated the option to work flexible hours at places that suited them the best, while also being able to integrate personal tasks – such as doing laundry or walking their dogs – into their days.

Some of the other challenges people faced were social isolation and at times a lack of productivity, but more people said that their productivity had increased. People also appreciated the ability to take actual breaks and go for a walk or a swim, and also found that a lot of time and money was being saved by being at home all the time.

However, they did note that for there to be a healthy balance between their home and work lives they do need certain supports, such as childcare, because otherwise there is a lot they are forced to juggle between their work and personal lives.

The researchers also found that most of the respondents want a future with at least some working from home and believe that employers no longer have a reason to demand employees work in the office, five days a week. They believe that COVID-19 has now paved the way for organizations to curate more inclusive workplaces and hire those who can’t come into the office every day – whether it be someone with a disability, someone who has people to look after at home, or even someone who lives in a different city altogether.

The Effect of Regional Culture on Social Distancing and Business Activities During the Pandemic

Research team; Alan Cai, Professor, Supply Chain Management, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Zhinlin Yang, Professor, Marketing, City University of Hong Kong

The goal of this study is to examine the effects of key regional culture features, such as community logic, market logic, and culture tightness, on the responses of people and local businesses to the government orders of social distancing. The research aims to offer new insight into the underlying mechanism behind the response of people and businesses to social distancing policies.

This study is being executed through a range of sub-projects. At the event Alan presented one of them: How do regional business policies affect small businesses’ work hours at the early stage of the pandemic based upon the interactive effects of cultural tightness and community logic?

Alan explained that when facing extreme events, such as the pandemic, companies have multiple needs – to survive, to obey the law, to fulfill their social obligation to do what is right and avoid harm – and they are also expected to provide resources if possible. And, they need to respond rapidly and at times without government guidance as policy is being developed.

With so many demands and a lack of clarity, the researchers believed that cultural forces would impact on how businesses react. To investigate, they looked at the United States as a case study, focusing on community logic and cultural tightness as influencers.

Community logic is the extent to which community commitment, collective belief, and reciprocity are emphasized in a region. Cultural tightness is the strength of the norms which exist in the community.

Looking at various regions in the US, the team found that when there is a gap in government policy, businesses do indeed look at the community for direction. Further both, community logic and cultural tightness work together to inform their decisions.

Where cultural tightness was strong, but community logic low, people were likely to stick with existing routines, resulting in businesses fearing a backlash if they reduced their hours. However, where there was strong community logic and a tight culture, people rallied behind the importance of public health at the start of the pandemic and businesses were able to reduce their hours without any fear of backlash.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Brick-and-Mortar Retail Workers

Research team: Leighann Neilson, Associate Professor, Marketing, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Nada Elnahla, PhD in Management candidate, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University)

The main objective of this completed research project was to examine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on brick-and-mortar retail stores, as workplaces where workers are affected by both their employers’ use of new store regulations and the consumers’ reaction to such regulations.

Leighann and Nada conducted a survey of 77 retail workers and 21 interviews with workers and managers.

The research showed that during the pandemic retail workers were facing four stressors: fear of the unknown; fear of infection; mistreatment by customers; and, having to be an enforcer of regulations but having no power or authority in doing so. These stressors created anxiety about going to work and older workers, in particular, experienced higher levels of stress.

Mistreatment by consumers appeared in the form physical or emotional abuse. Of those surveyed, 50.7 per cent of retail workers believe they are treated worse because consumers were frustrated by COVID-19 regulations and 36.4 per cent do not feel safe from angry customers.

Physical distancing was another area of mistreatment for retail workers. While maintaining physical distancing within retails stores is an area of contention between retail workers and consumers, the interviews revealed another dimension.

“In some cases, even the consumers who abide by the two metre rule between themselves and other consumers, they don’t abide by that rule when dealing with retail workers. For example, trying to reach over their heads to grab something off a shelf while a worker is stocking, or when talking to them,” said Nada.

This leads to retail workers feeling more stress due to the risk of getting infected and feeling disrespected by consumers.

Nada said at the event that even though their study has been completed, they want it to encourage future research on other stressors faced by retail workers outside the workplace, their coping mechanisms, finding new ways for retail workers and consumers to manage the new social dynamics after the pandemic, and the evolving role of service employees and the future of their workplaces after restrictions are lifted.

Pandemic, Panic, and Precarity: Interviews with International Students Stranded in Ottawa during COVID-19

Research team: Luciara Nardon, Associate Professor, International Business, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University); Amrita Hari, Associate Professor, Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies (Carleton University); Hui (Vivi) Zhang, PhD in Management candidate, Sprott School of Business (Carleton University)

This objective of this now completed study was to investigate the experiences of international students in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic, when traditional sources of emotional and financial support were drastically altered leaving many international students in a highly precarious situation.

The study aimed to understand their social situation, perspectives and strategies to address the challenges they faced. Additionally, it aimed to adapt interviews as a social research tool to provide support for individuals facing a difficult and dynamic situation, enhance their well-being and recommend adjustments to research tools to provide benefits to participants.

The team interviewed 13 international students living in Ontario to find out how they were coping.

From their interviews they discovered that international students were experiencing the pandemic ‘transnationally’ – meaning they were not just experiencing what was happening in Canada but also in their home countries. During this time, they also developed heightened dependence on families back home for economic and emotional support, but at the same time were aware of their financial precariousness because of limited job opportunities and monetary supports. An additional major concern for students is uncertainty about their immigration statuses: Will they get to stay in Canada after their graduation? Will they find a job?

“International students were particularly vulnerable due to their precarious and temporary immigration and residence status – they would talk about that fairly often during the interviews. The disruptions resulted in significant negative, economic, social and psychological consequences,” Amrita said.

Learn more about the Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 in ,
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