Well-being of academics and researchers in the Netherlands: who did COVID-19 affect the most?

1 March 2022

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A new study conducted by the Dutch Network of Women Professors and the Young Academy surveyed nearly 6000 academics and PhD candidates in the Netherlands to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020 on their work and well-being. The resulting report reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic amplified persisting inequalities and had a major impact on the well-being of academics with children, particularly women, as well as early career and migrant academics.

As a direct effect of working from home during the first lockdown in 2020, academics in the Netherlands reported having spent more time on teaching and less on research compared to the times previous the pandemic.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic particularly disrupted the work-life balance of academics with children whose research time loss was twice as large as for academics without children in their household.  Academics with children further indicated that the stress of family prevented them to do their work at the standard they were used to. This resulted in a work-family conflict, which was significantly larger for women. Indeed, women academics with children reported higher stress and anxiety about working from home, unstainable workload, their future in academia, and the health of relatives compared to other academics with children.

Furthermore, early-career academic-related staff such as PhDs, postdocs, and assistant professors reported higher levels of exhaustion and correspondingly lower work engagement than researchers, associate and full professors. Mental and physical health problems were largest among PhD candidates compared, for instance, to associate and full professors.

Numerous PhD candidates, postdoctoral scholars, and assistant professors even reported high levels of stress about their future in academia and their employment prospects in general. In turn, associate and full professors reported a higher concern about the well-being of their colleagues and staff and reported more stress concerning matters of teaching and heavy workload. Worryingly, academic staff working in temporary positions experienced the highest levels of stress and anxiety.

Multi-dimensional issues of migration and legal status during the pandemic impacted the well-being at work. Indeed, academics without Dutch nationality reported higher levels of stress and anxiety during the pandemic regarding their mental and physical health, research progress, unsustainable workload and their future in academia. They also reported higher exhaustion and lower work engagement scores than Dutch academics.

As corroborating similar findings from France and the UK, ETUCE remarks that these outcomes worryingly depict the exposure of the higher education and research sector to psychosocial hazards and work-related stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commenting on these findings, Gerlof Donga (AOb, the Netherlands), member of the ETUCE Higher Education and Research Standing Committee said “Although the research is based on self-report, it gives an indication of the impact of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the HER in the Netherlands. There is room to believe that these effects have only worsened since then. It is, therefore, essential that policymakers take these findings into account and address the long-term impact of the pandemic on the working conditions in the European Higher Education Area.”.


Read more:

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

UK Study found stress and anxiety of academics above national average during COVID-19 pandemic