The Impact of COVID-19 on the Work-Life Balance of Early Career Computing Professionals
In our first post about how COVID-19 and remote work has affected the mental health of early career professionals, we are focusing on work-life balance. Work-life balance accounted for 54% and 50% of answers for the most significant positive and negative changes. Positive changes were associated with the flexibility of work and environment, while unfavorable changes focused on no longer being able to separate work and personal time and motivation.
With 27% of answers relating to it, no longer commuting was the top positive change on mental health due to improved work-life balance. One response encapsulated the rest:
“I get more time for myself and my personal growth as it is not used up in commute.”
The 2014–2018 Census stated that the average travel time to work was about 26 and a half minutes. That extra time has allowed many to focus on themselves and their mental health.
Working from home allowed more people (20% of respondents) to have more flexible work schedules, allowing them to focus on what was needed at the time, whether related to their work or their personal lives. Similarly, 16% said their productivity and 11% stated their focus was increased by working from home. One respondent stated:
“I proved myself to be able to organize my schedule and avoid procrastination. It had a positive impact on my consciousness as a professional.”
The environment respondents were in also positively affected their mental health. 11% said that working from home was preferable to working from the office, whether because of the noise level, avoiding distractions, or being in a comfortable environment. Not being in the office also allowed 11% to feel “free of social anxiety” in the office around other coworkers.
A third of respondents said that the boundary between work and personal time was no longer clear or existing, negatively affecting their mental health. One answer said it best:
“Transition from working to leisure is blurry. I am still sitting at the same desk looking at the same computer. This makes me feel as if I am always ‘on call’ and should be available to contact even before or after regular work hours.”
Related to this, 20% said they are now working more than they did when they were in the offices, leading to more strain.
30% of respondents mentioned that lacking motivation is negatively affecting their mental health.
“The world is stressful and a mess right now, and how the heck am I supposed to care about the margins on a webpage enough to tell someone they need to go fix it?”
Trying to work as though things have not changed, when it is obvious they have, has been an issue for many. Employers may be expecting more or the same level of output as they did outside of the pandemic, adding more pressure to an already stressful situation.
Lastly, work-related communication was mentioned by 16%, with one answer stating:
“The social aspect of working in a team has become almost nonexistent, almost all communication over chat or video conferencing is directly related to work, we don’t really just chat anymore. Also, conflicts are harder to manage and overcome without in-person mitigation.”
Only talking about work with others can make you feel more isolated than just physically. While in the office, coworkers generally talk about their lives or other non-work related things that create bonds and make them feel connected. Body language and facial expressions are also essential to understand how others feel, both of which are lost when talking through text.
How COVID-19 is Specifically Affecting Early Career Computing Professionals
While working from home has certainly changed the balance between work and personal life for any career, there are certain ways that early career computing professionals are being affected more.
Two respondents told us about one of these difficulties:
Not being able to interact closely with my colleagues. As a young professional, the time spent with more experienced colleagues has been really valuable and I have not been able to continue this remotely.
I felt isolated and alone. Hard problems are easier to tackle when you can discuss with others and vent your frustration. You can do that remotely, but the threshold is higher — you only bother someone with a call if you really need help.
In such a problem oriented profession, being able to talk through problems and learn from more experienced team members is very important. Some computing jobs have their workers spend most of their time pair programming (two people working on one computer), which is obviously much harder to do now. Overcoming those challenges through a virtual space is a unique problem computing professionals face.
Another commonly mentioned problem was that the computer and/or area in which a respondent worked is also the same as where they have personal time. For those who work almost entirely on a computer, this can lead to more stress and time working. Before COVID-19, a commute generally would have served as a clear separation between work and leisure.
Stay tuned to learn more about the results of our survey and how working from home has affected young computing professionals!
Wellness Team, ACM Future of Computing Academy
Jessica Hair, Software Engineer, SmartFile, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jaelle Scheuerman, ACM Future of Computing Academy, email@example.com
Gürkan Solmaz, Senior Researcher, NEC Laboratories Europe firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela Wisniewski, Associate Professor, University of Central Florida, email@example.com