SA women academics suffered burn-out while working from home during lockdown, new study reveals

Working from home became a nightmare for SA women academics. Picture: Unsplash

Working from home became a nightmare for SA women academics. Picture: Unsplash

Published Mar 7, 2023


Working from home became a nightmare for many of South Africa’s women academics during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic-enforced lockdown in 2020.

Well, that’s according to a study conducted by Dr Cyrill Walters and Prof Jonathan Jansen from Stellenbosch University, Prof Linda Ronnie from UCT, and Dr Samantha Kriger from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The study, which surveyed more than 2 000 women in academia, was published in the peer-reviewed journal “Plos One”.

The study found that increased workloads, domestic pressures, and inadequate workspaces turned the home into a more stressful place and left them feeling burnt-out.

According to the researchers, the pandemic unsettled the meaning of “home” for women academics.

“During the lockdown, home was no longer that place of refuge from the demands and disorder of the outside world. Instead, it became a crowded and congested place in which many other functions – from home schooling to online teaching to new administrative tasks – needed to be executed, sometimes without any help from otherwise reliable partners, domestic workers, or extended family members,” said the researchers.

They also revealed that most women academics reported an adverse impact on their academic output, productivity, or dedication.

“Even if they had dedicated spaces, sometimes they found themselves competing with their partners for space or resources to complete their work,” said the researchers.

This had a negative impact on the health of women academics, add the researchers.

Researchers said academics who were also mothers, had a difficult time working from home. Those with a workspace and male partners sometimes felt pressure to give priority to their spouse’s work by conceding the space or being the one to tend to children who breached the barriers, deprioritising their own needs for a quiet workspace.

“With children present, the home as a workspace became seriously compromised, as young children saw the presence of their mother at home as signalling access and availability. One early-career academic and mother of a toddler and a kindergartner described how this dynamic ‘reduces concentration’, leading to ‘insufficient time to do academic work,’” researchers said.

The researchers said in a situation where the lockdown had “squeezed everything under one roof”, many women academics told how they postponed any professional goals that were not “essential”, ie teaching duties, suspending their studies, research, papers, and proposals in order to take charge of household duties.

“Going forward, tertiary institutions need to recognise and prioritise the gendered nature of the home as a workspace as a talent management issue,” researchers said.

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