Everything Changed Overnight for Him, and All of Us

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered work life and affected Canadians' sense of self in a way that's only beginning to be tracked and understood.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

“For a sociologist, the pandemic has brought to life once-in-a-generation shifts in the way we live.”

Scott Schieman is a Canada Research Chair and professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. He had just started a large national survey in September 2019. His research plans took a hard turn when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly upended the economy and radically changed the way many Canadians work.

“Our plan was to do repeated surveys every year for the next decade to track long-term trends. When the pandemic hit, we immediately pivoted to follow the same Canadians over time to understand their experiences throughout the pandemic,” says Schieman.

He surveyed participants around 12 times since then, painting a picture of how the pandemic has changed lives. Many Canadians lost their jobs or experienced economic hardship. People also found changes in their work-life experiences and were introduced to new concerns about the future.

“Everything really changed for a lot of people. So in our data we saw vast numbers, almost overnight — about 35 to 40 percent of Canadian workers — shift to working at home,” says Schieman.

“Unprecedented shift, like at an office one day, Monday you’re staying at home. So all of the different transformations that occurred with that, including simple things like, ‘How do I get on Zoom? I’ve never done this before.’ And for managers, ‘How do I manage a team that I can no longer see?'”

But that experience only covers Canadians who were lucky enough to keep jobs that could be done remotely. In those first days of the pandemic, Canada’s job losses broke records. Even for the 1.1 million Canadians who were told their layoffs were temporary, there wasn’t a solid sense of security.

“April and May of 2020 was this just unexpected dramatic shift in how they were understanding their own experiences with work, what they were going to do in the future, whether a job would still be there,” adds Schieman.

“And that really took a toll on their well-being and sense of self.”

Canadians are still rebuilding the way they live and work amidst many uncertainties. The longer term effects of the pandemic will continue to emerge as these shifts unfold.

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