New Work: Well-being at work, indirect victim of the pandemic

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What does work look like nowadays? Where are the opportunities and which areas still need improvement? In cooperation with the Chamber of Employees, the Lëtzebuerger Journal regularly publishes articles on the development of the working life.

Half of the workers in Luxembourg believe that their professional situation has been strongly or very strongly affected by the coronavirus crisis. This is one of the findings of the "Quality of Work Index Luxembourg "* (QoW) survey conducted in 2020 by the Chamber of Employees (CSL), in collaboration with the University of Luxembourg and the social research institute infas.

"When asked about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on work, 49% of the participants believe that their work situation has been strongly or very strongly affected. Conversely, 51% of respondents consider that the health crisis has had no effect on their situation", says David Büchel, occupational psychologist at the Chamber of Employees (CSL). Employees between the ages of 35 and 44, those working in the health and social services sector and in industry were the most affected by the unprecedented crisis. "Employees with children also reported being more affected than employees without children, as did employees who work from home compared to those who continue to work at their usual place of work", says the psychologist.

David Büchel, occupational psychologist at the Chamber of Employees

Conducted in the post-containment period, between June and September 2020, this survey shows that the health crisis has strongly influenced the overall quality of work in Luxembourg. Specifically, the use of home-based work is the main impact observed (47%). This is followed by changes in the scope of working hours (32%). 19% of workers say they have been put on short-time working, while 12% have been forced to take time off.

In general, the psycho-social aspects of work, which usually promote well-being and personal development, have suffered from this crisis. In particular, cooperation between colleagues has decreased. Masks, compliance with health protocols and home office have had a negative influence on the essential collaboration between employees in the same company. Participation in decision-making and autonomy have also lost ground in 2020. "After all, we are all social beings and reducing links and exchanges can only lead to a loss of reference points", adds David Büchel.

"After all, we are all social beings and reducing links and exchanges can only lead to a loss of reference points."

According to the survey results, 46% were not afraid of being infected by the virus, 31% were moderately afraid and 24% were very afraid of catching the virus. While in most companies the possibility to disinfect their hands (93%) and sufficient information to protect themselves from COVID-19 (82%) were given, a quarter of the employees did not always manage to respect the safety distance of 2 meters and 16% observed that not everyone wears a mask in their company. "This fear of being contaminated is more prevalent among women (30%) than men (21%). Not surprisingly, fear of the virus is high in occupations in direct contact with customers whether in the health care, retail, transportation or hotel and restaurant sectors."

Social isolation, uncertainty related to the crisis situation, but also the fear of the virus had negative effects on mental health. "We found, for example, that 3 out of 10 workers are at risk of depression and 1 in 10 show strong signs of depression, especially older and younger workers and people living alone. This is something to keep an eye on in the years to come. Again, women who live alone, and especially single parents, are more prone to the risk of depression."

The COVID-19 pandemic gave an unexpected boost to the development of home office methods, which became, overnight, the only way to run businesses in compliance with the instructions of public authorities and the health of employees in mid-March 2020. "From being the exception, home office has become the rule for a large number of people. Yet, in a post-confinement phase, between June and September 2020, 33% of respondents worked from home compared to 21% in 2017", analyses David Büchel.

This form of work is unevenly distributed, with some categories of workers benefiting more than others, notably executives, managers, intellectual and scientific professions, but also administrative workers to the detriment of field workers. It has thus enabled certain categories of workers to continue working without too many technical constraints and loss of salary, but at the price of a higher mental load, time pressure, emotional demands and work-life conflicts.

* The "Quality of Work Index Luxembourg" survey was conducted between June and September 2020. 2,364 people aged 16 to 64 who have a regular job of 10 hours or more per week participated.

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Hannert der Fassad - Daniel Balthasar