The Effect of COVID-19 on Women’s Mental Health and Employment

The Effect of COVID-19 on Women’s Mental Health and Employment

In what is being called the gendered impact of the pandemic, women are disproportionately feeling the effects of COVID-19 on their mental health and employment. While many employees have struggled over the past year, women face unique challenges that employers should understand in order to properly support their female employees.

Women often take on the brunt of the emotional and domestic labour in Canadian households, which impacts their mental well-being and ability to stay at work. They also often occupy jobs that either position them on the frontlines of the pandemic or do not allow them to resume work at all, further exacerbating mental health issues and widening the gender gap in the workforce. Employers should consider providing mental health resources as well as stay at work and return accommodations that will help mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health and employment.

Women’s Mental Health

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reported survey findings last month that indicated women were experiencing significantly higher rates of moderate to severe anxiety than men, 24.3% versus 17.9% respectively. Similarly, reports of loneliness were 23.3% for women and 17.3% for men (CAMH, 2020). The anxiety levels for women considerably spiked in September after a decline in June and a steady level through the summer, according to reports (OHS Canada, 2020).

Further at disadvantage of outcomes like anxiety are women of colour and those who work in the healthcare or service industries. Women of colour are more likely to live in high-density housing, work on industries on the frontline, and lack the financial resources to ensure the highest level of safety in their households. In the Greater Toronto Area, people from racial minorities have fallen ill with COVID-19 at higher rates (OHS Canada, 2020).

Women’s Labour Force

In addition to worsened mental health, employment rates for women have plummeted since the beginning of the pandemic. From February to October this year, 20,600 Canadian women have left the labour force; in comparison, nearly 68,000 men have joined the labour force (Statistics Canada, 2020). Exiting the labour force is described as those who have lost their jobs, are not temporarily laid off, and are not looking for work; so women who chose not to return to work were considered out of the labour force while many men who lost their jobs were considered unemployed as they actively sought employment (RBC, 2020). The women’s labour force has shrunk to levels not seen in 30 years (Canadian Union of Public Employees, 2020).

The Gendered Impact

The impact on women’s health and employment reflects the toll of traditional gender roles during COVID-19. Women often take on the responsibilities of caring for children, and the closing and reopening of schools and daycares has proved to be a significant stressor for parents as health and safety concerns rise. University of Toronto social work professor Ramona Alaggia adds that women are also often tasked with “ensuring their children are following safety measures like wearing a mask, or homeschooling due to some women sacrificing their work as they often earn less than their male partners” (OHS Canada, 2020).

Women also dominate industries that have suffered the biggest economic impact and incur the greatest health risk (RBC, 2020). Those working in customer-facing businesses like retail and food services have few options for staying at or returning to work with lockdowns in place, and healthcare workers and other essential workers are experiencing more exposure and stress as the second wave of COVID-19 climbs (RBC, 2020). Women in these roles are facing an incredible amount of mental distress and limitations that may make it difficult or impossible to work, adding to the already mounting pressure of family responsibilities.

What Can Employees Do?

Ask Your Employer for Accommodations

  • Inform your employer of your needs
  • Provide information and answer questions about relevant restrictions or limitations
  • Take part in discussing possible accommodation solutions
  • Cooperate with experts who may be assisting with the stay at work or return to work process
  • Continue to perform your essential duties
  • Communicate openly and clearly

Read more about The Duty to Accommodate and Accommodating Employees with Children.

Tips for Managing Parenting and Work

  • Stay calm and be mindful of not putting your emotions on the child.
  • Set out workday boundaries and priorities
  • Create family time during the workday
  • Give yourself time to breathe
  • Develop a long-term plan for caregiving
  • Ask for help

Read more about Employees with Childcare Issues and Integrating Childcare and Eldercare with Work.

What Can Employers Do?

As an employer, having a conversation with your employees about childcare issues is important so that you can develop a suitable plan.

  • Be mindful of not putting your agenda over the employee’s agenda.
  • Ask the employee what options have been investigated for childcare.
  • Work together to find solutions. Can the employee work from home? Consider flexibility of hours and setting clear expectations on productivity.
  • Provide resources for support – many EAP programs assist with childcare, eldercare issues, or relationship issues that may be occurring in the home.
  • Openly discuss employee expectations, abide by your legal responsibilities and duty to accommodate, and be creative about the ways employees can stay at or return to work.
  • Listen to employees with empathy, attention, and respect and ask them how you can develop a plan that works for them.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting has Occupational Therapists across Canada who can support your employees with accommodation assessments, exposure therapy, job coaching services, mental health consultations, and more. Make a referral for employees who require education, tools, and accommodations to stay at work or return to work. Our Occupational Therapists can provide virtual consultations to fit your needs.

  • TIPS for Return to the Workplace Program– Consider enrolling in our new 4-session work-focused CBT program to assist you or your employees in having the strategies to successfully return to work.
  • Manager Mental Health Training – Our Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace Workshop is a virtual program that can be provided to your managers to give them the skills to provide support to their employees through these difficult times.

For more on all we have to offer, contact us! We want to help make the difference in your healthy business!

Works Cited

“COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting mental health of women and people with children,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, October 14, 2020,

“COVID-19’s impact on women’s mental health is on the rise: CAMH study,” The Canadian Press, OHS Canada, October 15, 2020,

“Canadian Women Continue to Exit the Labour Force,” Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone, RBC Economics, November 19, 2020,

“Labour Force Survey, July 2020,” Statistics Canada, October 8, 2020,

“The gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Canadian Union of Public Employees, September 16, 2020,

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