Working from home exacerbates guilt in academic women


Academic guilt is well established in the literature in the work of female scholars who are simultaneously mothers and lecturers, home builders and researchers, caregivers and administrators.

It is a feeling of not being able to cope with conflicting requests in one’s time and is often accompanied by negative self -judgment.

In South Africa and around the world, women academics had to face this challenge of many roles more intensely when the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to work at home.

In our study, women recounted their experiences at various stages from the ‘difficult’ lockdown from March 23, 2020, to the gradual erasure of the lockdown until the end of September 2020.

At all these stages, universities are closed for face -to -face teaching. Only small exceptions were made where institutions gave permission for certain professional fields such as medical student practical work and laboratory work.

The guilt of academics caught up in work -life balance struggles is certainly not new, but when ‘COVID happened’, three things were different:

• The choice of home as a place of work is no longer voluntary but necessary;

• The incidence of people confined indoors has created new demands on working women – such as helping with children’s home education; at

• Workloads have risen sharply, putting more pressure on academics.

Our national study is the first comprehensive analysis of ‘academic offense’ in South Africa. In one survey, we asked more than 2,000 female academics from 26 university students about their experiences and feelings of academic guilt during the pandemic.

We found that the increasing amount of academic work (teaching, research, supervision and student support) along with increasing in-home commitments put women in situations they described as “overwhelming” and “unbearable”.

Our study shows that higher education institutions need to intensify efforts to retain women academics and prevent them from alienating them.

Improved workplace policies and flexibility in working arrangements should be considered, especially when office and home converge.

Competing roles

Despite major changes in the assumption of gender roles in work and family life, traditional expectations that a woman’s primary responsibility should be involved in caring for children and family are still creating. also stress for working mothers.

This is not to say that men do not experience conflict about the competing demands of their work and home life, but recent studies have shown that women have higher levels of guilt associated with their work. which interferes with family responsibilities related to men.

This is why we chose to present the opportunity for them to express their views. We found that for working women with children, the pressure of many competing roles created a sense of guilt. These duties include some or all of the following:

• Teaching university students online;

• Emphasis on student care;

• House cleaning;

• Shopping for food and making food;

• Comforting anxious children;

• Care of infants;

• Helping children with their school work;

• Research and writing; at

• Dealing with a partner whose employment has been terminated or reduced.

Some respondents also felt bad about regular pay if those closest to them lost their jobs. And some felt that “they should be able to do their job” even if they weren’t emotional in a good space.

Respondents recognized that the use of survival skills, such as the use of “putting television on as a means of child care”, is worthwhile. They did this because the pressure of work gave them little choice.

For some, the conflict that causes guilt is not just between work and family. Women’s academies are also torn between two major university obligations; teaching and research.

The research project showed that change in online tutoring affects respondents ’ability to focus on their research, which is a key consideration for academic promotion.

Female academics questioned their productivity. And the pressure is on South African universities to be ‘research intensive’.

Feelings of guilt were also expressed in relation – that is, in comparison to those (men) who did better in their academic work because of an advantage that was perceived to be unfair.

Many participants mentioned the uninterrupted productivity of men during the lockdown. In many households, traditional gender roles were exposed. Women who were unable to perform a caring role during ‘family time’ were conscientious.

But it is the always appropriate demands of family life that build beyond the guilt felt by academic women. Sometimes, the pulling and crying of a child when a mother turns her attention to her work becomes overwhelming.

Working from home and performing multiple duties is highlighted as a constant offense with personal health consequences.

Notification policy

Our research shows that guilt is common, consistent and consequential for academic women. The study concluded that academic guilt persists between the two main tensions of academic work and family care.

Therefore, universities should evaluate their working from home policies. Institutions also need to pay attention to the support available for the health and well -being of employees.

If universities plan to continue working from home policies indefinitely, they need to be aware of the unintended consequences and its impact on women’s academies and academies more broadly.

Future research should address this by exploring alternative work flexibility models adopted by other institutions during the lockdown, to identify best practices. Such studies should include the experiences of both men and women with young children.

Another variable relevant to this exploration is the career stage of academics. The combination of changing professional demands and changing life demands can create the need for different policies at different stages of the career.

Ultimately this research team, and the policies of institutions more broadly, should focus on creating working environments where women academics can become dedicated researchers and educators without any associated guilt.

Cyrill Walters is a post-doctoral fellow in higher education studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He also teaches the MBA program at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). She is currently working on projects examining the decolonization of knowledge in South African universities, the impact of COVID-19 on the academic work of women scholars, and the application of complex theory to leadership in higher education. . Walters holds a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from the University of Cape Town (UCT), was a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for his masters in music in 2002-03. He graduated with an MBA from USB in 2012 and completed his doctoral course at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in 2015-16, before graduating with a PhD from the Grgraduate School of Business at UCT.

Dr Armand Bam is the leader of the social impact on USB. He is also a senior lecturer in social business in the MBA program and quality and integrity in leadership with the postgraduate diploma in leadership development with a focus on nonprofit organizations. As lead author, her work on student reflections entitled, ‘Transforming learning through social interaction: Reflections on responsible leadership development in management education’ received the Best Paper award at the International Business Conference in 2019.

This article was republished from The conversation under a creative personality license. Read original article

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