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Tackling Work Related Stress in the Education Sector

Tackling Work Related Stress in the Education Sector

Date: 18th October 2018 | Categories: Health and Safety

Research has shown that teachers suffer a high level of work related stress and the HSE reports that “in the last 12 months over a half million working days were lost in secondary schools due to stress, depression or anxiety, which was caused or made worse by work”. In addition, suicides in England were 42% higher amongst teaching staff compared to the general population.

work related stress
Over the years, workloads have increased which has led to a rise in the number of those suffering from work related stress. Not only is there a cost to the economy but also the employee in terms of sleep deprivation, mental fatigue, anger, anxiety and a low depressed mood. Teachers are reportedly finding that their working hours have increased.

Teachers who are stressed have shown increased signs of absenteeism and when they are at work teaching, research has shown that the quality of teaching can be affected resulting in a negative impact on the pupils learning. Furthermore, it has also been shown that Ofsted school inspectors have had a significant impact on the increase of stress.

Be aware of the warning signs of work related stress

Stress can affect everyone differently and what one person may experience may not necessarily be the same for another person. Typically, there are some common symptoms to look out for in yourself or your staff:

  • Tiredness, aching muscles, disturbed sleep and headaches
  • Loss of appetite, indigestion, stomach problems or eating more than usual
  • Dependence on alcohol or drugs, excessive smoking
  • Inability to relax
  • A sense of being out of control
  • Difficulty retaining information
  • Poor concentration and indecisiveness
  • Worrying and increased irritability
  • Increased incidence of frequent short-term sickness absence
  • Change in attitudes to work / colleagues
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of nausea and dizziness
  • Increase in accident rates
  • Lack of enthusiasm

The Guardian newspaper recently reported that in 2017 YouGov commissioned a study and found that 75% of teaching staff surveyed reported symptoms of stress.

In a research study carried out in Queensland, Australia 535 teachers were asked to complete a questionnaire on the issue of work related stress. The outcome of this survey found the causes of stress within schools was the pupil’s behaviour. If the students were disruptive and not willing to learn, their attitude to the work can all contribute to the teacher feeling stressed. Furthermore, it was also highlighted that time was a major concern in terms of too many demands placed upon the teacher, marking of work, completion of administration tasks and not enough time to help prepare pupils for assessments.

Other research carried out a large cross-sectional study in English Secondary Schools looking at “Teachers’ wellbeing and depressive symptoms, and associated risk factors”. The results from their study highlighted a connection between “poor teacher wellbeing and the dissatisfaction and stress of work”. It was found that poor teacher wellbeing was strongly associated with not being able to speak with a colleague when feeling stressed or down.

Implement effective work related stress policies

To help prevent the onset of stress the HSE suggests a good starting point is a conversation about stress and wellbeing. It is important that all businesses implement a work related stress policy and that employees particularly those in the Education Sector are able to confide in a colleague when feeling stressed, depressed or anxious. The HSE have derived a simple and practical toolkit for headteachers and school leaders to help prevent the likelihood of the on-set of stress.
The toolkit consists of six elements which are:

  • Demands
  • Control
  • Support
  • Relationships
  • Role
  • Change.

Within each area of the toolkit is a template for conversations to have with colleagues that can help highlight the potential stresses within the workplace. Using this toolkit is one suitable and sufficient control measure that can help with reducing the likelihood of the on-set of stress. In addition The Department for Education has produced a poster and pamphlet with the assistance of Ofsted about reducing teachers workload. Evidence has shown that good stress management has reduced absenteeism and improves productivity which are great benefits for the school overall.

If you think a colleague is suffering from stress you should support them by encouraging them to talk to someone whether that be their G.P., the Headteacher, trade union or the occupational health team. it is important to remember that you are not there to diagnose or treat their stress, but to help prevent the on-set of stress or their level of stress from getting worse.

To conclude, employers are legally required to assess the risk of stress within the workplace and as such carry out a Risk Assessment. Once the Risk Assessment has been completed the employer must act to address the required changes to minimise work related stress.
To find out more about how we support businesses with their Health and Safety issues please contact our expert Health and Safety team.