What can we learn from the last lockdown
What are some of the lessons we can take from our first lockdown into a potential second that can improve the wellbeing of families during this time, asks Dr Kate Prickett.
As Aucklanders head into alert level 3 – and the rest of the nation is put on notice – we know the daily rhythm of our Covid-free life is about to come to a screeching halt.
“We’ve done this before, we can do it again,” we’re being told.
So what are some of the lessons we can take from our first lockdown into a potential second that can improve the wellbeing of families during this time?
During alert level 4 lockdown in April, colleagues and I surveyed over 2000 people about how their lives were going during lockdown, including asking about their work lives and their and their families’ wellbeing.
First, the good news. Despite fears lockdown would place an enormous stress on family relationships, family wellbeing on the whole remained resilient. That is, when we asked people to think about the quality of their relationship with their family, partners and children both before and during lockdown, we didn’t see any decline. In short, most of us will survive this with our wellbeing generally intact.
The bad news, however, is some groups struggled. Those who appeared worst hit were those who lost their job or income during lockdown and those mothers who continued to work and care for their young children.
Men who lost their jobs or income reported large declines in feeling supported by their partner. On the flipside, women partnered with men who lost their jobs also reported a similar decline in support.
Comparing the wellbeing of those who experienced job loss with those who were still employed but couldn’t work was like night and day. Those who were employed but not working not only reported more positive feelings, such as enjoyment and happiness, and less negative feelings, such as anger, stress and sadness, compared with those who experienced job loss, but also reported better wellbeing than those who were essential workers and (to a lesser extent) those working from home.
In those working from home, unsurprisingly, mothers of young children experienced the largest increases in their family time demands, with 70 per cent reporting more family demands. They reported more negative feelings and less positive feelings throughout the day compared with fathers and parents of older children and people without kids at home. They also reported declines in how they felt they were doing as a parent during lockdown.
While the emails from employers implored parents to put their family first, managers didn’t appear to make it easy: mothers didn’t report any decline in their work demands to compensate for the full-time childcare they were now juggling. In turn, these mothers reported more work-family conflict, which was associated with declines in parental satisfaction and their own wellbeing.
Potentially going into another lockdown armed with this information, what can we do differently in our homes, in our workplaces and in government?
Dads, make sure you’re doing your fair share. Normalise your caregiving role by talking about your family responsibilities with your colleagues. This is particularly important if you supervise or manage other men who have children. We need to decrease the stigma some men feel when asking for work-family balance. We should be doing this any way during peace time, but it’s even more important now.
Managers, supervisors and colleagues: working from home and caring for young children is a farce.
How do your work expectations align with the time demands of caring for children? Reassess your timelines for deliverables, shift responsibilities in ways that either decrease the workload or allow for the work to be conducted at odd times. But also have faith: mums find a way to get things done. Don’t add to the stress.
What can policy do? Can we think more creatively around bubble support systems that allow families to pool their social resources but yet still deliver the same public health response? Many families did this anyway, so advice that is both explicit and pragmatic can relieve the stress of those juggling work and kids, particularly those trying to do it on their own.
Finally, and quite simply, we need to continue to protect jobs. Our initial findings suggest the Government wage subsidy was a wellbeing success story. Recent official statistics suggest, however, that women have been disproportionately hurt by the Covid-19 recession. It’s likely many of these women lost their jobs or ‘’opted out’’ because of their untenable childcare situation.
While the wage subsidy programme was primarily used to support employers who couldn’t stay open during lockdown, what if, as well, we extended this to individuals within workplaces during lockdown who can’t juggle both work and family responsibilities, but for whom the job would still be there at the end of this mess?
Dr Kate Prickett is director of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children in the Wellington School of Business and Government at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington.
This article was originally published on Stuff.