Women and men unequal when it comes to the stress of teleworking

 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
The stress factors associated with working at home affect women and men differently, and these effects vary greatly from Quebec to France.

A wide-ranging study of telecommuting since the pandemic, as part of an extensive project initiated and piloted by GaŽlle Cachat-Rosset , professor in the Faculty of Administrative Sciences at Universitť Laval, shows that women and men in Quebec and France are affected differently by the stress factors associated with telecommuting.

During the pandemic, the researchers were able to observe the stress factors of people who teleworked. They assessed differences by gender, and by the more egalitarian social system in Quebec and the less egalitarian system in France, in terms of parental allowances, access to daycare, paternity leave and pay equity.

The research team found that when teleworking, women experienced higher levels of stress than men in a more unequal country like France. The stress experienced by women and men did not show the same difference in a more egalitarian context such as Quebec.

The stress factor linked to family interference with work was particularly high among women in the French scheme, while men were little affected. "In France, traditional roles between men and women in the home still seem to be present," explains Alain Klarsfeld, professor at TBS Education in Toulouse, and one of the study’s authors.

In Quebec, men were more stressed than in France, a result the scientists attribute to more active participation in the home. However, this sharing of family duties did not reduce stress among Quebec women. This finding suggests an increase in average stress levels among the Quebec teleworking population during the pandemic.

In terms of organizational isolation, men were more affected than women in Quebec, whereas no gender difference was noted in France. This more pronounced effect suggests that the loss of direct contact with the organization may have been perceived as a greater loss of resources for Quebec men. The latter were also more affected by teleworking conditions, probably because of their role in maintaining ties with the organization. The research team hypothesizes that culture and the relationship to work come into play.

"We assume that in Quebec, men are more emotionally involved in their work. In France, distancing oneself from one’s organization and one’s work is socially valued. We speak of a culture of ’working to live’" in France, compared with "living to work" in Quebec, stresses Alain Klarsfeld.

A more egalitarian system, like the one in Quebec, would help counter the situation in France, where women are seen by men as more of a resource in the home, and experience higher levels of stress when teleworking. Even so, such an arrangement tends to increase men’s stress levels, without lowering those of women. "Telecommuting stress is not a cake to be shared," says GaŽlle Cachat-Rosset.

These various findings were made in the context of the pandemic, when the switch to telecommuting was sudden and imposed. "We were cut off from our means, our colleagues, our professional resources, and this stressed men more than women in Quebec," adds the researcher.

According to the research team, these findings go beyond the context of the pandemic, and continue to this day. To remedy this, organizations can implement measures to reduce these stress factors. For example, flexible working hours can help with work-life balance. Actions can be taken to counteract both organizational and emotional isolation, with frequent feedback or by encouraging informal interactions between staff members. Providing a suitable teleworking environment and tools is another potential solution to stress factors.

The research team stresses that promoting teleworking practices requires a nuanced and cautious vision, taking into account the needs and stress factors of both women and men.

The study was published in the scientific journal New Technology, Work and Employment. The signatories are Alain Klarsfeld, Kevin Carillo, GaŽlle Cachat-Rosset, Tania Saba and Josianne Marsan.