French study: the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on researchers

09 November 2021

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)[1] has conducted a comprehensive study on psychosocial risk for researchers in France, entailing important insights on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the mental health and well-being of researchers.

The findings of the study, conducted on 381 researchers in different sectors, reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic sorely affected the mental health and well-being of researchers.

In general, working from home during the pandemic acted as an amplifier of pre-existing difficulties such as mental workload, intense work rhythm and prolonged working time, as well as acute unbalance between personal and professional time. However, the pandemic impact on psychosocial risks varies as researchers experienced unequal rhythms of life and different working conditions in home working.

While some researchers could properly focus at home and managed to dedicate more time than usual to reading, reflections, and production of articles, other researchers had serious difficulties focusing and finding a sustainable work-life balance. This is, for instance, the case of researchers with children or those facing inadequate home-working spaces. Therefore, researchers facing unfavourable home-working conditions reported feeling guilt regarding their efficiency during the COVID-19 crisis.

The psychosocial risks of researchers also varied based on different research fields. While some research domains are well suited for home research through informatic tools and techniques, other sectors such as biology, ecology or human sciences substantially rely on field research and primary data, and, therefore, faced unexpected delays and financial losses.

As emerges from the report, PhD researchers have been among one of the most impacted categories during the pandemic in facing profound isolation and psychological stress.

Furthermore, the impact of the health crisis and the subsequent lack of oral and direct communication also led to reduced cooperation and working relations and, in some cases, to the exacerbation of pre-existing tensions among colleagues. In other cases, the lack of interaction created discontent over the emergency measures taken by the managers to face the pandemic which caused frustration and a sense of inequality within the research teams.

Solidarity and support mechanisms have also been affected by the reduction of informal interactions. In this context of emergency, researchers felt they had to perform roles and tasks beyond their functions and skills, without any support from their employers. Many researchers also regretted the lack of help from the CNRS, in particular, the lack of supportive tools and psychological and social support.

ETUCE stands in support of its members organisations to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all education sectors, with particular attention to the impact of the pandemic of psychosocial risks of teachers, academics, researchers and other education personnel.  

Read more:

Precarious employment threatens research and higher education

[1]The CNRS is an interdisciplinary public research organisation under the administrative supervision of the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research.