Results of the survey for employees

Survey about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

Scientists and employees working at universities are most likely to be negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Among those most affected by the pandemic are women, and the careers of scientists with parenting and caregiving responsibilities may be negatively impacted in the long term. Researchers who have disabilities or are far from their homes and families have developed anxiety, stress, or concerns as a result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, a crisis like Covid-19 hits vulnerable groups and minorities particularly hard.

The first round of the survey ran from June 2020 to September 2020, the second round from November 2020 to February 2021. All employees of the School of Sustainability were invited to participate. The response rate was 30 responses. All quotes are from participants in the survey.

All suggestions and requests for how we as a faculty can better support employees in the pandemic were documented and will help us to improve out support.

Results of the survey

The following is a summary of the results for the first and second run of the survey sorted by different categories. Quotes from the survey complement the results and provide a more detailed insight. You can also find a summary of the results for download here.

People who are far away from their homes or families are among the groups most affected. To make these challenges visible, we encouraged participants to fill out the survey in their native language as well:

Ada dua hal yang menjadi tantangan terbesar saya yang disebabkan oleh pandemi COVID-19. Pertama, visa keluarga saya ditangguhkan, sehingga mereka belum bisa tinggal bersama saya di Lüneburg. Kami sudah mengurus visa sejak lama namun karena Kedutaan Besar Jerman di negara kami tutup sampai sekarang, hampir 5 bulan visa belum juga diterbitkan. Hal ini menjadi tantangan psikologis yang cukup berat bagi saya. Kedua, saya tidak bisa melakukan penelitian pendahuluan karena pembatasan sosial yang diberlakukan di negara saya. 

There are two things that have become my biggest challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, my family visa was on hold, so they couldn't going to Lüneburg. We have been dealing with visas for a long time but because the German Embassy in our country is closed. Almost 5 months my family's visa has not been issued. This is a psychological challenge for me.  Second, I could not do preliminary research due to social restrictions imposed in my country.

  • 1. Problems and effects
  • 2. Support through the university and suggestions
  • 3. Strategies for dealing with the impacts

1. Problems and effects

Challenges related to work:

Most participants saw the aspect of working from home as a huge problem. The juggling of child care and having a full-time job was the most challenging.

Coordinating childcare and the work of two full-time parents, doing equal justice to everything, and constantly being confronted with decisions that are also emotionally challenging.

Translated from German

The following were also mentioned to be great causes of problems:

  • For many, there is no longer a separation of work and free time which has led to a state of them being always available. This causes a lack of clarity, a lack of structure, and a lack of finality.
  • Online teaching (incl. the planning etc.) takes up more time than expected.
  • The same is true for research funding from the DFG: It helped, but was a very exhausting and time-consuming process.
  • Another major issue is the lack of motivation to work on one's own research or qualification work (doctorate, habilitation).
  • Some also report their concern that the quality of their own work, teaching, and supervision suffers from "emotional instability." One person also explicitly worries about students and that their curiosity and questions will go unanswered because they can no longer participate in full teaching and discussions.
  • Especially in the second round of the survey, many report that they are able to publish less or not at all and that the quality of their own research also suffers.
  • The persistent lack of exchange is also described as particularly challenging in the second round of the survey.

Basically, I don't currently work in a home office but live in an office home.

Translated from German

There is a lot of work I have to do a lot slower which is unusual for me, such as examinations; there is less time than usual for publications and the design of teaching, and I hardly have time to think about new applications.

Translated from German

This lack of time for grieving alongside the fact that grieving is very intangible right now since I could not say goodbye to my beloved ones means that I am emotionally unstable. To keep the scientific productivity, supervise students, and teach under these conditions is very challenging.

At the moment, I manage the teaching duties and the day-to-day business. There is no time for much research.

Translated from German

Private and health challenges:

This new lifestyle also causes many health problems. Many report negative physical consequences caused by sitting too long and spending less time being active. These issues and the pandemic in general then lead to psychological and emotional difficulties as well.

[...] there is still too much virtuality in daily life (which affects me physically and emotionally)

Translated from German

Stress and loneliness are most commonly cited as triggers for emotional problems. People who have a "limited social network" in Lüneburg (especially international employees) constantly worry about their families back home and that they will not be able to be with them if they get sick, as they will have to continue working their jobs. In addition, there is the uncertainty that some do not know who would take care of them here in Lüneburg if they got sick and went to the hospital. Not speaking fluent German is mentioned as another big problem.

The social distancing coupled with long hours at work sometimes leads to being lonely. The demarcation between work and leisure is more difficult because many valuable, quality leisure activities (such as meeting friends) are now only possible to a limited extent.

Translated from German

Differences to the beginning of the pandemic

Many participants notice fatigue in themselves, other employees and students. The long lockdown and the lack of perspective lead to frustration and exhaustion and further to a loss of contacts and motivation. However, some also speak of a more relaxed way of dealing with the situation and becoming accustomed to it. Particularly the experiences in handling of online teaching is mentioned positively. Some do not notice any differences.

Online teaching is now well-rehearsed, but frustration among students is also growing as the semester progresses.

Translated from German

2. Support through the university and suggestions

Many participants had suggestions on how the university and faculty can support them:

  • Advice on how they can work from home ergonomically
  • Assistance and flexibility with regard to hiring student assistants
  • Increasing evaluation time
  • Connecting more with supervisors and sharing how they are doing
  • It was suggested that the university provide more support to employees who have to take care of children or family members more often, such as compensating for missed publications through a point system. Similarly, it was suggested that the university provides these employees with a certificate confirming that they were employed during the pandemic and that the situation affected their research.

An official letter, to be given to academics with childcare duties only, stating that I was employed during pandemic times and that this had an impact on my research outputs, therefore asking to add [No of publications] to my publications list when comparing my CV with that of male academics. This letter would be fantastic to add to an application pack.

  • One person reported that his*her request for an Internet connection at home was denied, requiring his*her to privately sign a more expensive contract, which was over budget.
  • Individuals who do not live in Lüneburg would have liked to have been offered a place to work in Lüneburg.
  • There was a desire for more accommodating exceptions and creative solutions, e.g., on the topic of vacations, contract extensions, or SHK positions.
  • But the university was also praised, especially in terms of its flexibility and effective and efficient IT support the smooth running of online teaching.
  • Some report that they actively use the existing or new support services of the university.

Other suggestions on how the university can help were mostly related to psychological counselling to get through the pandemic. In addition, workshops in German and English were suggested to address and help deal with stress and anxiety disorders. Another suggestion was to reduce teaching loads. In addition, the following suggestions were made:

  • Provide more opportunities for students to teach outside
  • Provide disinfectant at the doors and hallways
  • Covid-19 issue should be actively integrated into research and teaching

The challenges that exist for many young scientists anyway (fixed-term contracts, childcare, uncertain future, dual career, etc.) fall even more on one's feet in pandemic times. However, the challenges lie less in the pandemic itself than in the existing structures. Improving these structures would therefore be helpful in dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

Translated from German

3. Strategies for dealing with the impacts

In addition to the suggestions above, many participants developed their own strategies to deal with the situation. While many have said that they simply try to "deal with the situation," others have explicit methods:

  • Organizing virtual meetings with friends and colleagues.
  • Acceptance that less is possible and they cannot deliver the same results as before
  • Prioritization of activities, i.e. they did not have the possibility to solve every problem of every person who came to them. This includes setting limits on one's own work capacity.

I try to exchange ideas with others, to learn from them what coping strategies work well for them. I need more time for many things, e.g. to record a lecture or to convert a seminar to digital. At the beginning, I thought I had to have more time available because, for example, I would no longer have to travel, but that was a fallacy.

Translated from German

[…] I find it incredibly hard to sympathise with very detailed concerns about challenges of their PhD journey whilst trying to wipe a small persons' bum and prepare a keynote in parallel.

The experience from the spring has shown me that I can't manage the pre-pandemic workload. Therefore, I am prioritizing even more and setting smaller goals. I am currently turning down all requests from journals for reviews. In the past, I have done several reviews per month and I think that is an important contribution to the community. But at the moment I can't do that.

Translated from German


If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us at the following address:

Contact persons

  • Dr. Fabienne Moreau
  • Prof. Dr. Berta Martín-López

Neele Bünning (student representative)
Antonia Michel (student representative)