Surveyor well-being during COVID-19

Understanding the impact of survey work on enumerator health, how that may worsen during COVID and ways we can do better

Stress induced by surveying

The stress on enumerators and development professionals and its effects on productivity are well documented. Development professionals often experience feelings of guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, and feel overcritical of themselves at work as this Dalberg study found. Direct survey work whether on the field or over the phone as carried out by field teams can come with even more challenges. Surveying in general is a difficult job, it requires long hours, attention to detail, and patience and is also often of a temporary nature. The NFHS has a dedicated training manual for enumerators on domestic violence which guides surveyors on taking care of themselves and gives suggestions to the trainers on how to make sure emotional well-being is taken care of both at the training and data collection stage. When the surveys are on sensitive topics such as domestic violence or mental health, listening to harrowing tales day in and day out, staying in remote locations, and being involved closely with respondents can be mentally and physically taxing. This can also be emotionally triggering and have consequences on the personal lives of enumerators. They may feel deeply moved by personal stories, recognize the same problems in their lives, or feel a lack of motivation and helplessness leading to dissatisfaction with their work life.

Why this may be amplified during COVID-19

There has been a surge of research on the various socioeconomic dimensions of COVID-19 with existing research projects pivoting to COVID work or new projects coming up dedicated to understanding the impacts of the pandemic and the lock-down. The research covers a wide variety of topics including but not limited to income shocks, job retention/loss, food insecurity, access to government relief and healthcare, life satisfaction, mental health, and emotional challenges of the lock-down such as anxiety, lack of communication, loneliness and experience with police and crime during the lock-down, intimate partner violence, etc.

How to do better on a project level

There are two broad ways we must take better care of our enumerators. One is on a project basis and the other is systemic change in protocols and support provided by the organization to often temporary staff.

Organizational level changes

Enumerators should receive special training and support for mental health. There should be separate and professional training on what goes on while listening to harsh realities during an interview. Training and monitoring protocols must be changed and designed specifically for these circumstances. Research Associates and Field Managers should be equipped with additional training and the right tools to help surveyors deal with listening to harrowing tales, creating support systems, and documenting and sharing FAQs and coping mechanisms for surveyors. There is much value in building these skills in field and research teams both for now and in general. There are also considerable gains to be had in terms of retaining talent, productivity and data quality when surveyors feel supported and cared for.

Self proclaimed bluestocking, famed anti-socialite and occasional goat chaser. Currently an RA at JPAL-SA, aspiring kind human. All views are my own.

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