Heroes or Victims? Public Perception of Essential Workers in the Pandemic

Essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic have been praised — and rightfully so — as heroes since the very beginning of this global crisis. But how are they faring? Does the perception of essential workers as heroes overshadow their own suffering?

The pandemic has infiltrated lives across the world for almost two years and a new study lead by Zhenyu Yuan, Assistant Professor of Managerial Studies, evaluates public perceptions of essential workers.

The goal of the study, which is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was to compare the implications of portraying essential workers as heroes (i.e., working on the frontlines of the pandemic) versus victims (i.e., suffering from inadequate support and protection).

“Our cultural construction of a hero is someone who is willingly making self-sacrifices. Therefore, in calling essential workers heroes, we may go down the slippery slope of taking for granted their sacrifices and suffering,” said Professor Yuan.