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Tech meant to make remote work easier burdened mothers’ mental health during pandemic: study

By Brooklyn Neustaeter, CTVNews.ca writer

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — A new study has found that some tech tools made popular during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their ability to make remote work easier actually added stress and exacerbated the mental health toll on burnt-out moms trying to manage a household while working from home.

The study, published Tuesday in scholarly journal Communication Reports, found that stress levels of working mothers “skyrocketed” in the early days of the pandemic and they tried to juggling homeschooling and household chores alongside the professional duties of their jobs.

According to researchers out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), as well as Michigan State University and the University of Kansas, this “blurred work-life balance boundaries” and resulted in women bearing the brunt of household responsibilities during the pandemic.

The findings add to numerous studies that have documented how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and mothers, as well as their mental health.

Researchers surveyed 540 women with children in May 2020 who had worked for up to 10 weeks remotely and found that the technology they used while working remotely, such as increased video calls or communicating via direct messages, burdened their mental health more so than other groups.

The study found that video chats and texts tended to stress out remote workers, regardless of parental status and other factors including age, race, and education. Researchers say this is because the extra visual cues needed to get points across via a video meeting and “expectations of immediacy” when replying to direct messages contributed to fatigue.

However, the study found that these two forms of tech “especially” impacted working mothers because the tech hindered their ability to multi-task, affecting their ability to juggle household responsibilities and leading to burnout.

“We did find stress levels progressively increased for women with more children, which really points to the juggling act — you’re trying to keep track of multiple kids and the job,” UNLV communication studies professor Natalie Pennington said in a press release.

She added that something as simple as conducting a meeting over the phone instead of via video chat may help mothers with this multi-tasking and ease their burden.

Pennington said the findings raise questions about the future of remote work and ways to preserve employees’ mental health.

“The answer to alleviating stress might be supporting the use of asynchronous communication, like email, compared to synchronous forms, like video chats and texting, to create the flexibility needed to better balance work and home,” she said.

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