How the Covid-19 Pandemic Affects Job Stress

Haizheng Li
About This Project

Headshot of Professor Haizheng Li in the School of EconomicsBy Gita Smith

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way people work and live. A new study, by Georgia Tech School of Economics faculty member Haizheng Li, investigates the pandemic’s effects on teachers’ job-specific stresses and their enthusiasm for the teaching profession in rural China. Li with co-authors Mingyu Ma (Ph.D. student) and Qinyi Liu (Assistant Professor, who received Ph.D. here at the School of Economics in 2018), at Chinese universities in Beijing, also studied the working channels of the pandemic, including behavioral changes in job-related activities. Additionally, they looked at how teaching stress affects career development stress and how both affect the enthusiasm felt for teaching. Their study sheds light on the ways that the pandemic fosters overall anxiety and a pessimistic social atmosphere, thereby exerting a direct impact on job sentiments.

“We use unique data from annual surveys of rural teachers in China that cover the period right before and after the start of the pandemic,” Li says. “The data come from a total of 5,767 teachers.” The research shows that, among rural young teachers, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused higher teaching stress and career development stress, and it has reduced passion towards the teaching occupation. Teachers for this study were participants in the Young Teacher Empowerment Program.

While everyone has felt fear associated with Covid, Li and partners chose to examine teachers because, unlike some other professions, their work morale will have a deep impact on a society. Furthermore, teaching is considered one of the most stressful professions, and this can lead to lowered commitment, higher absenteeism, and increased tendency to exit the profession. More importantly, teachers’ work attitudes affect education quality and student performance. Therefore, the influences of the pandemic on teachers will have potential consequences for the education outcomes of future generations.

The survey, in the form of a questionnaire, acknowledges two different categories: overall effect and effect due to local Covid severity. Local pandemic severity has statistically significant effects on teachers’ career development stress and job enthusiasm, but the effect is much smaller compared to the total pandemic effect. Overall, the pandemic has forced teachers to switch to online teaching, which increases teachers’ workloads. It causes stress for those unfamiliar with the online teaching tools. Online skills are especially new to teachers in rural areas. Therefore, they are more at risk for stress. Moreover, teachers’ administrative workload increases substantially as they try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in school and amongst students. Previous studies have looked at nurses, college students, and the general population. This study by Li, Ma and Liu adds a needed perspective to the literature.

How the Covid-19 Pandemic Affects Job Stress of Rural Teachers appeared in The IZA Discussion Paper Series from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

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