Prior to COVID-19, Canadian workers were already facing concerns related to their well-being. Well-being includes the absence of negative issues, such as anxiety or depression, but also the presence of positive emotions and psychological and social functioning. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, however, workers have encountered additional work-related stressors that can negatively affect their well-being, such as:
Research to date regarding the crisis has only explored a few selected short-term outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, which leaves a lack of research highlighting subpopulations within samples of workers across a set of well-being measures. For example, research has shown that negative well-being has increased due to COVID-19. However, it is unclear whether these findings are representative of people with diverse social characteristics or employment types. There is also a paucity of research studying factors, such as perceived vulnerability to COVID-19 and sense of job security, affecting workers’ probability of developing lower well-being in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. I will be studying these factors so that I can help inform mental health and workplace resources, which can impact the “reality” of well-being a worker is experiencing.
Research conducted before COVID-19 revealed that multiple work-related factors, such as job insecurity and job loss, are associated with decreased well-being. These factors have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis as workers experience sudden, and even higher job insecurity, which we found to be associated with lower well-being in the first month of the COVID-19 crisis. Mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on well-being may be possible, but we must recognize the diversity of workers’ experiences (in other words, their “multiple realities”) to understand how to promote conditions that increase their resilience.
The Need to Recognize Multiple Realities
Recognizing the multiple realities of worker well-being is important as diverse workers, such as healthcare and retail workers, have faced different stressors during the COVID-19 crisis. Healthcare workers have experienced longer work hours during the crisis, for example, while retail workers have faced increased job loss. I am co-leading a long-term research study entitled “Overcoming the unseen: The effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health of Canadian-based workers”, which allows me to explore these multiple realities. This allows me to not only determine the different subpopulations at one specific point in time but over the course of the study explore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022. Positive (flourishing, meaning in life) and negative (distress, stress) aspects of well-being, as well as indicators of work (impaired productivity, troublesome symptoms at work, thriving at work), were used to determine these multiple realities. Preliminary results from this study identified multiple realities of Canadian workers’ well-being in May 2020. This included:
Towards a “New Normal”
My research also aims to track the trajectory of workers’ experiences throughout the pandemic and as society emerges from the pandemic into “the new normal”.
Since the development of our study in 2020, Canadian governments have instated new public health policies that have changed the way we interact in public spaces. As a result, workers’ social anxiety may have increased as they may think others are monitoring their adherence to these policies. Workers may also have front-line roles in asking the public to adhere to these policies. Anxiety may cause significant emotional distress and functional impairment at work, according to research conducted in pre-COVID-19 contexts. Another aspect of a pandemic to consider is the return to a “new normal.” I will explore workers’ social anxiety as workplaces begin to bring workers back into the physical workplace. Factors associated with workers’ well-being in this new context will also be identified, in addition to factors buffering workers’ anxiety.
I am currently a part of a larger research program one of my co-supervisors is leading in partnership with Relief, an organization helping individuals with mental health concerns. My findings will be communicated to Relief to inform their work providing support, education, and mental health self-management recommendations. It is anticipated my research will provide concrete evidence for employers and organizations to understand workers’ well-being in times of pandemics and epidemics and to help them get the support they need to develop positive well-being in the short and long term. The end goal is to help workers be more resilient in both pandemic times and in non-pandemic times, whatever the “new normal” holds.
Tyler Pacheco (he/him) is a well-being researcher who is pursuing a PhD in Social Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is interested in the effects pandemics and epidemics have on worker well-being. Pacheco’s work has garnered the attention of multiple news outlets for his work on a national study that investigates the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian workers’ well-being. Over the course of his academic career, Pacheco has published multiple academic articles related to workers’ well-being, as well as been the recipient of several academic awards.
In addition, Pacheco has recently become the graduate Research Theme Ambassador for the psychological and social determinants of health and well-being research strength area. His research is currently being supervised by Dr. Nancy Kocovski, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Dr. Simon Coulombe, Université Laval (also Adjunct Status at Laurier). Before fast-tracking into his PhD, Pacheco received his honors Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Toronto Mississauga.