Two in five (40%) of teachers have experienced excessive stress at work over the last year

11% have suffered from mental health issues other than stress over the last year, causing many to rely upon drinking or smoking to cope 

According to a new survey, 40% of teachers in the UK have reported feelings of excessive stress this year with a further 19% highlighting a lack of support from their employers.

18.5% of teachers have taken sick days off work for mental health reasons as a result, with findings showing more than one in five respondents relapsing into smoking over the last year. 

Teachers have faced unique challenges during the pandemic: struggling to engage younger children with remote learning, teaching students with inadequate IT equipment and teaching while taking care of their own children at home.

Being in close contact with so many children, who sometimes don’t understand social distancing or proper handwashing, means they are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 than the majority of people. This pressure is beginning to pile on the industry, causing concerns that a staff shortage will place extra strain on the sector.

Inadequate support

Two in five teachers have experienced excessive stress at work over the last year. (19%) felt their employers didn’t provide the support they needed.

(7%) of workers in the industry have taken statutory sick days or unpaid leave due to mental health issues, this is more than half the number of those that took unpaid leave due to further mental health issues.

The 2021 Stress and Mental Health study asked teachers working for 67 schools in the UK about their experience of stress and mental health issues in the workplace, the cause of excessive stress in their role and the impacts on life outside of work.

Sarah Whittaker, Assistant Headteacher at Haydon Abbey School in Aylesbury, said:

“Teachers are generally feeling overwhelmed. Not with teaching itself, but with the data, paperwork and pressure that comes with it. Many schools, including mine, do everything in their power to reduce workload and stress levels within their schools. Yet, no matter what policies and procedures you have in place to support this and staff, the pressure often comes from above. The government and education sector put a lot of pressure on the school system and unfortunately, this affects the people on the ground in many ways including stress levels being heightened. Policies from schools which include making marking more manageable and planning lessons that are still engaging but limit workload help support staff members and teachers, but often the government focuses on figures and progress and not so much on the positive, engaging and safe environment a school provides, particularly after such a turbulent few years. The figures are not surprising! Ofsted is starting to realise this and have adapted their guidelines for inspections now but is this maybe too little too late for some within the industry”.

Impacts of excessive stress 

33% of teachers impacted by excessive stress were struggling to pay their bills – citing low pay in the industry as a contributing factor. Meanwhile, a quarter (25%) were struggling to cope with their ‘unmanageable’ workload.

For 23%, lack of support and bad management left employees feeling excessive levels of stress. 

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, says: 

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.

Policies like turning off email servers outside of working hours help ring-fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.”