According to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2012, the number of teachers taking stress leave has risen by 10 per cent over the past four years. What’s more, 15 local education authorities reported a 50 per cent increase in stress-related absence. A recent survey of UK teachers, conducted by Teachers Assurance has shown that stress levels within the profession could affect a teacher’s ability to successfully perform their role. What’s more, high stress levels caused by financial or workplace worries are impacting on a teacher’s family life and health.
Every teacher in the survey identified that they suffered from some form of stress, with a staggering 70 per cent rating themselves as highly to unbearably stressed.
Additional research has shown teachers in the UK have a 40 per cent higher risk of suicide that any other profession. Thousands of telephone calls to the Teachers Support Network Group – a UK charity providing counselling, information and support specifically for teachers - are logged every year. Hundreds of sick days are taken by teachers every month.
Teacher Burnout Why? Because stress and an off-kilter work‑life balance are contributing to teacher burnout. Within the findings, 76 per cent said their stress levels were having repercussions on their health and lifestyle, rising to 79 per cent for those aged 31-40. 83 per cent responded that they constantly feel tired due to stress. Others said stress was causing them to argue more with friends and partners, with 66 per cent saying they were less patient with others when stressed.
Most concerning, 42 per cent of the teachers surveyed responded that they felt less able to do their job well as a result of their worries and 27 per cent felt distracted at work.
Of course, everybody suffers from stress, whether it is caused by financial, personal, workplace or health worries: so why is it particularly important that teachers get extra support?
Consider most other professions. If someone’s having a bad day because of worries or stress at home, their mood might affect three or four colleagues. If a teacher has the same concerns and they bring them to the workplace, hundreds of pupils could be affected. The experience of stress in the education system can no longer be ignored. It is vitally important to raise awareness of the issue so that both the internal factors and external circumstances contributing towards the experience of stress by teachers can be addressed by both teachers as individuals and by the organisations they work for.
Common causes In addition to identifying the levels of stress that teachers throughout Britain were facing, the Teachers Assurance research survey highlighted the areas that were contributing to the stress levels of teachers.
The four main areas causing teachers concern were financial and workplace worries, as well as personal and health problems. By the very nature of their profession, lack of resources, support and evaluations can also be contributing factors to teacher stress.
Financial worries It was no surprise that financial worries caused teachers more stress than either health or personal problems. Teachers pay and benefits are set to undergo significant changes; September 2013 sees the introduction of performance related pay; and don’t underestimate the difficulties of coping in the current economic climate.
No less than 81 per cent of the survey respondents said they were suffering from stress as a result of financial worries. 13 per cent admitted to severe stress due to concerns about their finances. 37 per cent even went as far as to state they would either definitely or probably be a better teacher if they had fewer financial worries.
Workplace worries The survey results revealed workplace worries caused 51 per cent of teachers severe stress. Concerns over performance, pay and general job security all contributed to teachers’ anxiety. Interestingly, it could be interpreted that all of these concerns relate to fundamental human needs for security of wealth, property and employment.
To support this theory, research conducted by Teachers Support Network Group adds that teachers are increasingly concerned about their day-to-day lives, rather than professional issues. In particular, money was the biggest worry, with thousands of calls about teachers’ finances every year.
Personal and health worries Personal and health issues proved to be lesser contributory factors to stress according to the survey results. 62 per cent of teachers said they felt slight or no stress as a result of personal problems, while 72 per cent said they felt slight or no stress regarding their health. However, it’s important to recognise that those figures could easily change when stress starts to impact health and wellbeing.
How to spot stress and burnout Stress can manifest itself in many ways. Left unchecked it can lead to burnout, which in turn can affect your health, happiness, relationships and performance at work.
Common signs of stress and burnout to watch for include; exhaustion, frustration, lack of motivation, loss of concentration, a feeling of being overwhelmed, a preoccupation with work, a lack of care for personal health and appearance, and irritability.
Fatigue in particular is incredibly detrimental to a teacher’s ability to carry out their work effectively, which in turn negatively affects the quality of their teaching.
The cumulative effect of prolonged stress leads to the extreme depletion of the adrenal and autoimmune systems, which results in various medical concerns and can eventually lead to burnout. Recovery from burnout can take several weeks or months, sometimes even years.
In the UK, teachers take an average of 13.2 days sick every year. Not only could this negatively impact a teacher’s health, family and career aspirations; the substantial amount of absenteeism depletes the British economy due to the unprecedented costs on the medical and social support systems.
Beating burnout Eliminating some of the causes behind stress and anxiety; whether by tackling financial planning to help alleviate money worries; or getting organised to have a better work-life balance, will be key to preventing teachers from burning out. There are a number of things teachers can do to:
Take time to relax. It may sound obvious but switching off and taking relaxation seriously can help enormously when trying to de-stress. However one chooses to relax; whether by reading, spending time with family, meditating, walking or even staring into space for an hour; relaxation is extremely important.
Invest spare time in hobbies, focussing on activities is both enjoyable and distracting. Challenging and engaging personal projects are a good way to channel attention away from things that are causing stress and worry.
Watch the diet, do exercise and get some sleep. Although not revolutionary suggestions, taking the time to look after physical health will have a positive effect on the mind and help to reduce stress. Additional stress can be caused if dependencies on caffeine, sugar or fat are left unfulfilled. Activity and exercising encourages feel-good endorphins in the brain and can instantly reduce anxiety and stress. As mentioned earlier, not getting enough sleep can seriously impact performance, productivity and motivation – all leading to further worry and stress.
Get organised - taking control, prioritising tasks and getting organised can all help prevent burnout. Too much ‘plate spinning’ will only end up causing further worry.