The Impact of COVID-19 on Utah Women and Work: Resilient Mindset and Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021 continues to impact all Utahns’ daily lives. Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Research Center, the Federal Reserve Bank, and sources such as the Wall Street Journal continue to report that women’s employment and careers have been disproportionately impacted during this time. Utah has seen similar negative impacts on working women. For example, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah reported that from 2019 to 2020, jobs held by women declined at a rate more than double that of men, and unemployment rose more for females than males.

Over the last several months, Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) researchers have investigated many aspects related to the impact of the 2020–2021 COVID-19 pandemic on Utah women and work. An extensive, in-depth survey was opened January 2021 to all Utah women aged 20 or older who were either currently employed or who were unemployed due to the pandemic. The aim was to understand the experiences of Utah women in the labor force during the pandemic. The study collected data on a wide variety of topics and included both quantitative and open-ended questions to capture participants’ perceptions and experiences. This research and policy brief is the fifth in a series of related reports.

This brief highlights the results of the survey related to the following aspects:

1) The connection between a resilient mindset and reported wellbeing levels,
2) The associations among spousal support, resilient mindset, and wellbeing,
3) The links between workplace support, resiliency, and wellbeing, and
4) The key positive foci of Utah women workers during the pandemic.

Setting the Stage

Other reports analyzing these survey findings have demonstrated several of the negative impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on working women. This report takes a different focus, examining associations between having a resilient mindset during the pandemic and reported wellbeing levels. Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or “the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before.” Research has found that resilient individuals more often use positive emotions to bounce back from stressful and other negative emotional experiences more quickly and effectively.

Other research has found a connection between resilience and a growth mindset, which is an attitude and belief that people can cultivate and improve talents, abilities, and intelligence through efforts, strategies, and learning. Growth minded individuals believe that success comes from working through challenges, and they thrive when challenging themselves. On the opposite end of the continuum is the fixed mindset, which is the belief that people’s basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent, are fixed traits that cannot be changed or developed. Research does suggest that a growth mindset can help individuals better overcome and even capitalize on challenges, and in some cases, structural barriers. COVID-19-era research suggests a growth mindset may help individuals be better equipped to navigate pandemic challenges specifically.

The Resilient Mindset

To determine whether a respondent had a resilient mindset, we focused on the following question: “If I should find myself in a jam, I could think of many ways to get out of it.” (Respondents always indicated their agreement levels as 1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=somewhat disagree, 4=neutral, 5=somewhat agree, 6=agree, 7=strongly agree). Comparing the averages, those who maintained a more resilient mindset, meaning that they could think of ways to overcome potential problems, appear to have experienced less physical health decline, less mental health decline, less additional burnout, and less worry, on average, than those who did not maintain this perspective.

Spousal Support, Resilient Mindset, & Wellbeing

A previous brief in this series, The Impact of COVID-19 on Utah Women and Work: Childcare and Homeschooling, examined the main effect of spousal support on wellbeing. That study found that working women who indicated they received equitable sharing of household chores experienced less negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Next, to provide deeper understanding of the potential importance of individuals keeping a resilient mindset, we compared groups of those who “strongly agree” with those who “strongly disagree” on the statement “I share household chores in my home equitably with my spouse/partner.” We evaluated the four groups (resilient vs. less-resilient mindset by equitable vs. not equitable household chores). The data indicate a clear association between those who viewed less equitable sharing of household chores, decreased perceptions of physical and mental health, and increased levels of burnout and worry about family members’ health.

That is, working women who had a strong resilient mindset and did not experience equitable sharing of household chores scored better (e.g., lower) on all four negative wellbeing metrics versus women who had a less resilient mindset and who did experience equitable sharing of household chores. The resilient mindset plus equitable household chores group indicated less agreement regarding mental health decline, physical health decline, increased burnout, and worry about family health. These findings suggest that a resilient mindset results in better wellbeing compared with a less resilient mindset, even given less support at home.

Workplace Support, Resiliency, & Wellbeing

An earlier study in this series—Caregiver Experiences—provided initial examination of the potential effects of workplace support and wellbeing. The study found that workplace support regarding flexible work location and work hours can be an important help to working women. In this section, we examine the different combinations of potential workplace accommodation and the worker’s resilient vs. less-resilient mindset in relation to aspects of wellbeing. There is strong overlap among those with a similar level of resilient mindset, regardless of whether there was a flexible work location. Thus, the resilient mindset of the workers appears to be even more valuable than workplace location accommodation.

This should not be taken as an excuse for organizations not to provide flexible work accommodation where possible, but rather as a caution that organizational systems that foster employee resilience may be an important factor in how well employees utilize such flexibility. Flexible work locations were related to low amounts of health decline, burnout, and family worries, but only for those with a resilient mindset. For those with a less resilient mindset, this flexibility was associated with high amounts of health decline, burnout, and family worries. Therefore, cultivating a resilient mindset in employees is an important step to ensuring that flexible work accommodations create benefits for both the employees and the organization.

Key Positive Foci of Utah Women

Understanding the driving motivations of those who were able to remain hopeful and resilient could provide insights for organizational leaders in terms of how to strengthen workplace cultures and practices. To do this, we focused on qualitative data from the hundreds of women employees who had more agreement with the question, “If I should find myself in a jam, I could think of many ways to get out of it.” For this group, we examined their responses to the two open-ended questions: 1) “How has the pandemic impacted your work experience?” and 2) “What benefits, if any, have you experienced (or anticipate experiencing) in your job/career because of the COVID-19 pandemic?” By analyzing the open-ended comments of those with more resilient mindsets, positive paradigms emerged, like: expanded focus on building relationships, increasing productivity, and practicing gratitude, enhancing communication, compassion and collaboration in their lives, and an opportunity to demonstrate personal strengths or more equitable workplaces. 

Recommendations

There are many resources available for individuals desiring to strengthen their resilient and growth mindsets. Reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is a good start. In addition, there are many reputable sources with resiliency materials online, including the Mayo Clinic, that address how to build resilience skills that will help people endure hardships. Many companies also provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for their employees that include counseling related to resiliency and wellbeing.

Organizational decision makers can help enable and encourage more women (and men) to develop resilience and a growth mindset. This research aligns with extensive global research finding that this type of mindset is linked to many benefits for individuals, teams, and organizations. Organizational leaders can set an example and teach a growth and resilience mindset to their employees. This can be done in the way they

  • convey what the organization values (learning and perseverance vs. ready-made genius or talent),
  • focus on deepening understanding as the goal of learning,
  • give feedback that promotes learning and future success,
  • praise employees, while conveying the processes that lead to learning,
  • present skills as learnable,
  • present supervisors, managers, and leaders to employees as resources for learning, and
  • treat setbacks as opportunities for learning.

Overall, employers and policy makers should focus on identifying and putting into place systems and activities that help individuals develop and strengthen resilience and develop a growth mindset.

To learn more, read the full brief.

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