“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy
“Can you hear me?” – It was my common sentence for the off-campus academic activities for around one and a half years during the pandemic. My concern was whether I was audible properly or not. There was nothing to be worried about my visibility at the university campus during the pandemic, whereas it was an important issue before the COVID-19 period. Long working hours (Bailyn, 2004), availability (Reid, 2015) and visibility in organisations (Gambles et al., 2006) were some well-recognised ideal worker norms before the coronavirus period. Nonetheless, the pandemic made substantial changes to these expectations.
Ideal worker expectations were so strongly prevailing in organisations before the pandemic that flexible working or working-from-home practices were not well-accepted (Fernando, 2017; Gambles et al., 2006). The physical presence in organisations with certain conditions (such as long hours and visibility) was deemed so critical to assess employee commitment that women, particularly with children, were perceived to have a lack of dedication to organisations (Fernando and Cohen, 2014) while they could perform tasks out of office premises within or beyond office hours.
Nevertheless, the extant literature on ideal worker expectations is mostly concentrated on Western developed nations; little is known from the context of non-Western developing countries (Fernando, 2017). Simultaneously, the body of literature on female academics during the pandemic tends to almost entirely focus on the impact of maternal roles on their careers whilst overlooking how they navigate ideal worker norms during this changed scenario (Jaim, 2021).
In this auto-ethnographic study, I explain how my gendered experiences were changed regarding ideal worker expectations while performing university activities on the online platform in Bangladesh during the pandemic compared to that of the previous period. The physical classes of universities in this country closed in March, 2020, and the universities resumed physically in October, 2021 (Arannya, 2022). It is worth noting that I have served as a faculty member in different universities in Bangladesh for around fifteen years.
Whilst working from home or flexible work hours were practised in our university before the pandemic, long working hours, availability and visibility still had significance as ideal worker norms to reflect the commitment to our institute or university. While home management problems of female employees for ideal worker norms have been addressed in the literature (Fernando and Cohen, 2014), I find how physically staying for long period or remaining available or visible at the campus resulted in the wastage of time during the pre-pandemic period.
If I would have to go to the campus in the morning to attend the meeting for around one hour, I would certainly have at least three hours for the journey. If I would catch the university bus for my return, it means – I would have to stay for at least two more hours after the meeting. I might not have any other specific tasks on that day that needed to be done at the institute premise. But – yes – I might sort out how to use that time at the campus. Well! The time won’t be always productive. The issue would be more complicated if it were an emergency meeting – I would need to go to the campus with a short notice. I would have to think about how to adjust my household work for that approximately one-hour meeting (consuming practically around seven hours)!
Nonetheless, the long hour was not problematic for me during the coronavirus crisis period compared to the previous scenario. As I was working from home, there was no issue of wastage of time before and after the varsity tasks, which was a common case earlier. Moreover, sometimes we had to work late hour before COVID-19; Moreover, sometimes we had to work late hours at the campus before COVID-19; in some cases, we needed to stay only to maintain availability or visibility requirements without proper productive work. Against this background, sometimes, the safety regarding travelling home from the campus was a gender-sensitive issue for me in this highly patriarchal country, whereas the literature has not addressed this issue regarding ideal worker norms. However, I did not need to be worried about safety while doing the home office during the pandemic.
The availability or visibility at the workplace was particularly emphasised regarding performing committee activities before the pandemic. Whilst remote working practice was deemed as a sign of the lack of organisational commitment during the pre-pandemic period (Fernando, 2017), in my view, female academicians were in a disadvantaged position in demonstrating their commitment compared to male counterparts, specifically for their homebound responsibilities. During the coronavirus crisis, accomplishing such tasks on the online platform became a well-accepted practice for all academicians of the institute during the pandemic. COVID-19 provided legitimacy to the home as a workplace for the committee activities. By concentrating on working on the digital platform for the committees, I realised that we were focused on the tasks while the visibility at the workplace seemed irrelevant during the pandemic. In my view, female faculty members could prove their potential through their work comparatively easily without being stressed by the gendered problem of visibility.
In sum, I consider that the new working culture triumphed over some gendered barriers regarding ideal worker norms during the pandemic.
Whereas maintaining extended hours, availability, and visibility at the workplace was a long-standing problem for women (Blair-Loy, 2003; Fernando and Cohen, 2014), the pandemic provided the platform to develop a working environment where I was not in such a disadvantaged position for the traditional gendered issues. The lack of availability or visibility during the pandemic had a common ground in terms of health concerns irrespective of the gender of the faculty members. In simple words:
It was all about the biological body – nothing about the social concern of gender! We were not interested … We – both male and female teachers – were not interested in going to the institute during that terrible period of the pandemic because we were careful about coronavirus – Full Stop.
Moreover, working from home provided me flexibility in managing my domestic chores. The literature demonstrates the problems concerning the caring responsibilities of female professionals, particularly for their young children (Jaim, 2021). Although female academicians did not have to comply with the ideal worker norms, i.e. long hours, availability and visibility on campus during the pandemic, it can be concluded, from the literature, that they were not having the benefit of working from home. As a single woman without children, I did not face any such additional workload that hampered my professional activities. Consequently, I was able to capitalise on the advantages of the lack of demand for the typical ideal worker norms in Bangladesh.
Although I do not consider the virtual academic environment an ideal one in Bangladesh, I experienced substantial changes regarding ideal worker expectations in my university during the pandemic. Whereas maintaining long hours, availability and visibility at the workplace were long-standing problems for women employees (Fernando and Cohen, 2014), the new working culture alleviated many of these issues. Moreover, while the literature tends to portray only the gloomy side of the pandemic, I find some light from the gendered perspective regarding academia. I am also optimistic to find some positive changes of the ideal working culture during the post-pandemic era.
So, here we are. We could not work out to deal with the long working hours issue before the pandemic. The solution to the availability problem was not readily available. The problem of visibility seemed invisible to many teachers. Against all these awkward aspects of academia, I can find some awesome remedies during the awful condition of the pandemic! The peculiar pandemic situation provides us with some positive changes about ideal worker norms. While working at home, I, particularly, gained the advantages as I don’t have the problem – chilling with children!
Arannya, M. (2022). ‘The Future of Higher Education in Bangladesh’, Available at: https://www.thedailystar.net/supplements/future-education/news/the-future-higher-education-bangladesh-2905261. (Accessed February 17, 2022)
Bailyn, L. (2004). ‘Time in Careers’, Human Relations, 57(12), pp. 1507-1521.
Blair-Loy, M. (2003). ‘Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives’. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Fernando, W. D. A. (2017). ‘Advancing Interests through Informal Voice: A Study of Professional Workers in Sri Lanka’s Knowledge Outsourcing Sector’, Human Resource Management Journal, 27(4), pp. 630-647.
Fernando, W. D. A. & Cohen, L. (2014). ‘Respectable Femininity and Career Agency: Exploring Paradoxicalm Imperatives’, Gender, Work & Organization, 21(2), pp. 149 164. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12027.
Gambles, R., Lewis, S. & Rapoport, R. (2006). The Myth of Work–Life Balance: The Challenge of Our Time for Men, Women and Societies, Chichester: Wiley.
Jaim, J. (2021). ‘Unmasking the Mask: Female University Faculty Members, Gender and COVID-19 in Bangladesh’, Education in Crisis Re-thinking Education in (Post)-Pandemic South Asia, The University of Oxford, The UK, July 23-24.
Reid, E. (2015). ‘Embracing, Passing, Revealing, and the Ideal Worker Image: How People Navigate Expected and Experienced Professional Identities’, Organisation Science, 26(4), pp. 1-21.
Author Information: Jasmine Jaim completed her PhD degree in Business and Management from the University of Nottingham, the UK. Currently, she is serving as Professor at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh. She has diversified research interests and has published a number of articles in the leading journals of business. Jasmine Jaim can be contacted at: email@example.com
Suggested Citation: Jasmine Jaim. 2023. ‘Navigating Ideal Worker Expectations: A Single Female Academician in Bangladesh during Pandemic’, Think Pieces Series No. 32. Education.SouthAsia (https://educationsouthasia.com).