EuroScience supports the vision of a scientific workforce that creates a positive change for society. We believe that this vision can only be realised if the professional workforce is as diverse and representative of the society it should serve. We recognise that there are many obstacles to achieving this diversity, including organisational cultures (the values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation) in the workplace that are not inclusive, supportive or designed to nurture and celebrate diverse voices and talents.
EuroScience is preparing a set of activities that focuses on highlighting both good and bad organisational practices and culture within our broad community. To better understand our future areas of focus, we have invited our stakeholders to respond to an anonymous questionnaire which helped us learn more about the current concerns and obstacles those working in the science profession encounter in their working environment. The consultation consisted of 11 questions and was divided in two parts: the first studied the various aspects of culture at the workplace as well as their ideal working conditions, the second part would explore how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their work.
The open consultation was sent to subscribers of the EuroScience mailing list, as well as being promoted on social media. Answering was fully voluntary and anonymous. Thus, we cannot present statistics of different groups or populations. The numbers shown here represent the 394 responses obtained.
While we are still examining the first part, which requires more in-depth analysis, we can already report on the second part, composed of two questions, dealing with how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our working environment and wellbeing.
Question 1: The pandemic has positively affected my work in the following ways (multiple answers were possible): 394 responses
|I don’t have to commute||172||44%|
|I have a better work-life balance||110||28%|
|I work more efficiently at home||99||25%|
|I can concentrate better at home||99||25%|
|I have shorter, more focused meetings||113||29%|
|It has not positively affected my work||116||29%|
Question 2: The pandemic has negatively affected my work in the following ways (multiple answers were possible)
|I find the isolation difficult||149||38%|
|I don’t have the ideal environment to work||132||34%|
|I cannot undertake my lab work at home||131||33%|
|I find juggling work with family/caring responsibilities difficult||98||25%|
|It has affected my mental health||91||23%|
|It has not negatively affected my work||71||18%|
|I have contracted Covid-19||16||4%|
We observed that almost half of the respondents were happy not to travel to work. 30% indicated that their meetings were much shorter and focused, and the same percentage also claimed that they had a better work-life balance. However, we cannot affirm that these two aspects are interrelated.
25% respondents judged that they work more efficiently and are able to concentrate more effectively at home.
Covid-19 did not positively affect the work of 30% of respondents
Taking into account the negative impact of Covid-19 on work; the main obstacle detected was coping with isolation. 38% of respondents affirmed finding isolation difficult, 34% didn’t have an ideal environment to work and the same percentage responded not being able to undertake lab work at home.
Family life has also been affected as 25% of respondents found it difficult to juggle between work and family/caring responsibilities. About 23% then declared being affected mentally and about 4% had contracted Covid-19.
Covid-19 did not negatively affect the work of 18% of respondents
Overall, if we examine and compare the records, we can conclude that Covid-19 had a subsequent impact on our work.
It was found that Covid-19 negatively affected the work of professionals that required access to their lab facilities as an essential part of their work and whose home environments are not adapted to their work. As one respondent indicated:
“Home office is no substitute for a physical office space”
Based on the written individual contributions, the global pandemic has also exacerbated some pre-existing problems related to a fragile hierarchical and managerial structure. Poor communication as well as the feeling of isolation resulted in drop off of teamwork productivity and efficiency.
A number of responses mention missing human interaction and informal discussions with colleagues which were often a great source of inspiration and advancement in their work:
“I miss meeting my colleagues a lot. They are a great source of inspiration!”
“It is hard to build teams and manage conflicts without face-to-face interactions”
Others also point out spending too much time in front of a computer without human interactions and the negative effects of this on their mental health. Furthermore, the level of stress has increased for those with children. The global pandemic has also amplified the gap between men and women as regards the work-life balance. Single mothers had to reduce their work or completely drop it. This was detailed by one respondent:
“My biggest concern with the COVID situation is the delay to publications and how they will impact my career. I am a single Mom with two younger children, and even though I manage to work my 6-8 hours of the workday, all of my “extra” work time in the evenings and with babysitters etc. has evaporated. Things are moving much more slowly, not just experimentally but also intellectually, and this is common for most everyone I know with kids. On the opposite side, my colleagues without kids are often positive about how productive they are and how much more they managed to accomplish (an extra manuscript, and extra grant application or two). It is a truly unfair advantage that will hit home on the job market, when those of us with children have “little” to show for this time period in comparison to our childless colleagues. I fear I will be forced to leave science.”
Other contributions revealed that they found juggling between work and family duties difficult; their workload increased by 30-40% and they felt constantly exhausted.
On the other hand, other testimonies declare that the pandemic helped facilitate their involvement in daily family routine. The main positive impact of the global pandemics is certainly the reduction in commuting and the flexibility of working from home, which has in a way improved their working conditions. Many professionals previously spent long hours commuting to work which contributed to their poor mental and physical health, as one contributor put it:
“Less commuting time and online meetings make it possible to do all the different projects at different locations within one day. That would be impossible, if I had to travel everywhere all the time…”
We can conclude that Covid-19 affected respondents in different ways depending on their professional and personal circumstances. As billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has been quoted to say: “Work from home culture will continue post Covid-19, but technology has to improve”. Of course, this will be difficult if you work as a particle physicist and require an accelerator to do your research.
Written by Marie Suchanova, Operations Manager, EuroScience
Note: The consultation was undertaken by a subset of the EuroScience Governing Board, who have formed a Task Force to examine issues around diversity and inclusion. Members of the board are: Gail Cardew, Stephane Berghmans, Brian Cahill, Anne Cambon-Thomsen, Camilla Modéer, Christine Heller del Riego, Matthias Girod