The recent news that 3,750 teachers are on long-term sick leave due to an ‘epidemic of stress’ is further evidence that mental health is a growing concern.
A freedom of information request revealed that one in 83 teachers spent more than a month off work in 2016-17 because of the pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness.
1.3 million days have been taken off by teachers for stress and mental health reasons over the last four years, with around 312,000 in 2016-17.
The research was carried out by the Liberal Democrats, who requested data from 152 English councils. Eighty-two responded, 53 said they didn’t have the information, and 17 did not reply – meaning the figures could be even worse.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of an “epidemic of stress”.
“Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession,” she said. “Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over a week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week.
“And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system.”
How can employers help prevent stress?
The problems teachers are facing are symptomatic of a wider problem of stress in the workplace. According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), in 2015/16 over 480,000 people in the UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill. This amounts to nearly 40% of all work-related illness.
Employers have a legal duty of care to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees. They should conduct risk assessments for work-related stress and take action to prevent staff from experiencing a stress-related illness. This can include:
Clear channels of communication between employees and managers will reduce stress by encouraging employees to discuss any problems they may be having. Being open to discussions will show that a manager supports their workforce. Two-way communication will also take the uncertainly away from change.
Not being chained to a desk will help employees’ wellbeing. Having somewhere in the workplace that’s quiet allows employees to recharge and feel refreshed from short but relatively frequent breaks. Getting up from the computer will also relieve back pain, eye strain and repetitive injuries. Employees should also be encouraged to use their full holiday allocation.
Allowing flexible working can give employees more control over when and how they work, as well as reducing commute times and giving them a better work/life balance. Employees should be given the opportunity to help design their jobs too, so they’re consulted when coming up with the processes for how to perform their role.
Using a Performance Improvement Plan helps with communication between employers and employees. They can be kept informed of their performance progress, and benefit from being given regular targets. The targets will also show them where they fit in with the overall aims of the organisation.
Encouraging friendships at work will boost morale and team spirit. Employers of course cannot force people to get on, but organising social events both in and outside of work should help.
How can we help you?
For more information about reducing stress at work and employee wellbeing, please call one of our Deminos advisors on 020 7870 1090 or visit our Employee Assistance Programme webpage.