Essential workers balancing life and work during the COVID-19 syndemic in Spain: a qualitative and gender-based study



During the COVID-19 lockdown in Spain, healthcare workers have experienced productive work overload, as well as an increase in reproductive work, which has worsened their mental health. Little research has been done on nonhealthcare essential workers although they have been exposed to similar conditions. Objective. To explore the experiences of essential workers after the first year of the COVID-19 syndemic in Spain on work-life balance, considering different professions and reproductive work responsibilities. Methods. Exploratory qualitative study using a gender perspective. Eighteen semistructured interviews were conducted via telephone or videoconference between January and March 2021. Interviews included essential workers in healthcare, social work, food related, and other settings, eleven women and seven men. A thematic analysis was conducted. Results. The disposition of essential workers for reproductive work, task sharing, and work-life balance differed according to gender. Reproductive work was predominantly the responsibility of women; work-life balance was especially challenging for single-mother families and families with children. Being an essential worker, performing face-to-face productive work during lockdown seemed to allow a sense of “normality” and personal space. However, it appeared to lead to feelings of exhaustion due to unsustainable working conditions and pressure on reproductive work during the first year of the COVID-19 syndemic. A lack of social recognition was perceived, especially among social workers. Conclusion. This study raises awareness of the difficulties of combining productive work that has become essential with reproductive work in a context of extreme social isolation and little social and institutional support. It questions the role of women in reproductive work, brings visibility to professions such as social work, and highlights the need to improve their working conditions. It is urgent to implement policies to mitigate effects on mental health and its determinants in the short term and long term to reduce gender inequity.

Catuxa Máiz-Mazuela, Laura Medina-Perucha, Anna Berenguera, Tomas López-Jiménez, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt, Pablo Cerezo Sepúlveda, Constanza Jacques-Aviñó, “Essential Workers Balancing Life and Work during the COVID-19 Syndemic in Spain: A Qualitative and Gender-Based Study”, Health & Social Care in the Community, vol. 2023, Article ID 1124583, 15 pages, 2023.


Laura Medina Perucha

Anna Berenguera

Tomás López Jiménez

Pablo Cerezo Sepúlveda

Constanza Jacques Aviñó