The Knowledge

How stressed are teachers compared with other professions?

Educators won't be surprised but these numbers are harrowing, says Russell Glass

Educators won't be surprised but these numbers are harrowing, says Russell Glass

22 May 2023, 5:00

The age-old and much-debated question of who has the most stressful job in the UK may have found its answer. The Headspace 2023 Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health report finds that the British population overwhelmingly deems education to be the most stressful career path, with a staggering 93 per cent of those in the profession feeling stressed at least once a week.

The education sector was one of eight sectors involved in this latest report, which analysed the state of workplace wellbeing. Education came out on top, beating even financial services and insurance for stressfulness. In that sector, 91 per cent experienced stress at least once a week. Those in the hospitality industry experience less stress than any of the sectors surveyed, with 17 per cent of these employees either experiencing no stress, or only rarely. This was followed closely by the retail sector, where 16 per cent of respondents say they rarely or never experience stress at work.

I am sure educators will not be shocked by this finding given the ongoing strike action and the evolution of teaching practices following the pandemic. Indeed, we’ve all heard the stories of classroom practitioners opting instead to work at Tesco’s, and we can see why. But the fact remains: this number is harrowing, and should serve as a wake-up call.

At least once a month, 83 per cent of education workers feel a sense of dread relating to work. For one-third of workers, this is being driven by a fear of being overwhelmed due to unrealistic expectations to take on more responsibility (41 per cent) above and beyond their job description. 

The working environment is also a contributing factor to the deterioration of educators’ mental health, with managers being called out for their lack of understanding of life outside work (47 per cent) and an absence of respect when it comes to working hours (44 per cent).

All of this, coupled with stress due to economic uncertainty (46 per cent), inequalities relating to marginalised communities (43 per cent), political uncertainty (33 per cent) and Covid (29 per cent), has had a distinct negative impact on the emotional wellbeing of education workers.

These numbers are harrowing and should serve as a wake-up call

Many also still feel unsettled by the instability and constant change during and after the pandemic. Sadly, this decline looks set to continue with 30 per cent of education workers saying they feel worse than they did last year.

Research shows that stress at work often leads to a number of other mental health struggles. Taking all these factors together, it is evident that the stress experienced by educators is verging on extreme and thus having a highly detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing both in and out of the classroom.

However, research also shows that the right support can mitigate this. This can be clinical support as offered through the NHS or sub-clinical support as offered by Headspace and others. The key is to ensure the right support is there at the right time. Whoever provides that support, and however they provide it, early identification and intervention are particularly important.

When it comes to the mental health support of education workers, 44 percent say would like a system that offers quick access. Forty-six per cent say they’d like that to include multiple support streams (such as in-person, virtual, or app-based talk therapy). And 45 per cent would feel most comfortable with behavioural health coaches, therapists or psychiatrists who share their life experience.

Workplace mental health is now a key business priority for employers in every sector across the UK. Ultimately, keeping staff healthy and offering support to those who are suffering more acutely makes business as well as human sense. It results in lower absenteeism and an overall happier and more productive staff.

The key is that employee wellbeing is within our control.  It comes from our workplace environments, our understanding of existing pressures facing employees both in and out of the office, and the support we offer.

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  1. James Little

    Surprise surprise teaching’s a tough number. It’s great some have escaped to the charm of the aisles but surely they struggle financially. I certainly have enjoyed ditching class teacher and senior leadership roles and now actually teach as a supply teacher quitting the building after I’ve marked work and tidied up. Most classes are amazing – some a nightmare. But oh the joy of not attending tedious meetings when you know you’ll leave with a longer list of priority number 1 jobs to attend to tomorrow, putting up pointless displays no one looks at or writing reports that make absolutely no difference to how a student works in class. Would I recommend teaching to my younger self? Teaching – actually teaching – is great. The mountain of stress, lack of a social life and strain on relationships… well I think not.

    • I’ll second that! I’ve just done the same and I don’t think I realised quite how much it was affecting me until I quit and started supply – I now enjoy teaching again without the stress that went with a school based post.

  2. A chef

    Try being a chef catering for 70+ orders per service lunch and dinner. the numbers are more harrowing at weekends… oh and chefs work is 7 days not 5… we work every bank, every summer, every Christmas, every other special holiday.. catering for the needs of awkward customers with dietary requirements or preferences.. dealing with stock orders and legal paperwork daily… our working day is between 9 and 12 hours.. 1 hour break if we’re lucky… meanwhile teachers are off every weekend every bank holiday, every so called teachers training day, 6 weeks in summer and every half term.. what the hell are they stressing about? Being a teacher compared to chef is a part time job.. suck it up!

    • Sarah

      Your job does indeed sound like a massive undertaking and very stressful but please understand that teachers don’t just down tools when they leave school on a Friday. For instance in the school I work at they spend hours and hours planning lessons outside of work hours which then become working hours, filling in forms for outside agencies, visiting homes, week long residentials working 24/7, turn up hours before the school day starts, go home hours after the children finish, run after-school clubs, run school plays and find the time outside of classroom hours to do it including the holidays, pick up food for the schools own pantry, run a pantry, drop food at children’s houses, plan days out, have half an hour lunch if they’re lucky, no breaks, breakfast club, run meetings for children in care/in need, playtime cover, deal with children with anger issues being kicked, punched, sworn at. Spoken to/shouted at by parents even when the teacher is not the one in the wrong/just doing their job. We are teachers, social workers, nurses, parents, counsellors etc etc. So please know that the teaching role is an extremely difficult job. And then we have to go home to our own families and try to muster up the energy to be whatever/whoever we are to them.
      The summer holidays are for the children because they Cannot take anymore information in and give teachers the opportunity to spend time with their own families which is stolen every single week otherwise with not a single ounce of overtime available.
      I personally am paid to run breakfast club which starts at 8am. I’m also paid from 8am but I can’t turn up at 8am otherwise the children would have nothing to do, nothing ready to eat and nobody to welcome them through the door.
      Try a week in an inner city school and you may look at things a little differently.

  3. Paula McGee

    Spot on article. Absolutely agree with the points raised. Whilst the focus is on schools the same points apply in FE and HE teaching. It’s hard work and immensely stressful whatever the setting.