Wellbeing, News & Updates

Wellbeing in education: a problem coronavirus just made worse

Lydia Watson

Education professionals: they’re key workers for a reason. Shaping the next generations – from teaching them to read, to training them to practice medicine – their influence touches every area of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure.

Things are especially stressful now, with rolling lockdowns and ongoing uncertainty, which means the wellbeing of teachers and lecturers may be more at risk than it already was. And that needs addressing, to make sure they have the resilience they need going into the next year.

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The impact of coronavirus on mental health

There’s a wellbeing crisis across the board, thanks to the pandemic. And it’s hardly surprising – from general fears and anxieties and health concerns, to high levels of redundancies and unemployment, it’s had a widespread impact. In March, 62% of people surveyed had felt anxious in the two weeks prior; in June, 1 in 10 had experienced suicidal thoughts, with higher numbers across certain groups. This is no small problem – and it’s affecting some more than others.

Wellbeing in schools and universities before the pandemic

For education professionals, this isn’t a new problem either – there’s been a wellbeing crisis in this sector for a while. One study saw a 155% increase in university staff seeking counselling in the last few years, with occupational health referrals rising by 170% between 2009-2018. In schools too, 1 in 20 teachers report mental health issues that last beyond a year – with an increase of 4% of teachers with long-lasting problems since the 1990s.

It’s clear: the mental health and wellbeing of education professionals was already a concern. So what effect has coronavirus had?

The impact of coronavirus on wellbeing in education professionals

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic hasn’t helped matters. 52% of teachers report suffering from worse mental health since the pandemic, with 48% of leaders and other education professionals experiencing the same. YouGov also saw 55% dealing with anxiety, 52% with stress, and 29% with feelings of hopelessness. But what are the key drivers of this decline in wellbeing?

Adapting to digital teaching and remote work

More than 1.5 billion students globally experienced a move to remote learning, during the first peak of the pandemic – with 71% of education professionals saying they’ve been primarily working remotely. That means teachers, lecturers, and other staff have had to quickly adapt to provide online learning opportunities to a variety of students, with a wide range of needs. Not only has that added pressure likely impacted wellbeing of staff, it’s also essential that their mental health needs are met – so they have the resilience to continue adapting to the changing lockdown laws.

Dealing with disappointed or disoriented students

Beyond adapting the practicalities of remote teaching, education professionals also had a burden of communicating these major changes to their students. From cancelled exams – the importance of which has long been drilled in – to some universities scrapping in-person lectures and seminars indefinitely, there was a reported sense of anger from students around the experience they were having.

With 22% of school teachers equating their presence on site as no more than “childcare”, there’s a real risk of reduced wellbeing across the board – because people are motivated by a sense of purpose. And feeling that they’re letting down their students won’t help.

Feeling a lack of government support: practical & emotional

That sense of purpose comes from a lot of sources: students, managers and leaders, and even their government. 48% of education professionals working on site, and 39% working remotely, cited a lack of government support as the biggest challenge they faced mid-pandemic. Only 15% felt appreciated by the government too – their almost 100 guidance updates, coming sporadically and out-of-hours, and general failures in communication made demands that were hard, or confusing, to meet.

For school teachers, there was also pressure to provide on-site teaching for key workers’ children – and a delayed provision of equipment and internet for in-need children learning remotely. So it’s not just one factor, it’s a combination.

How organisations can show they care about wellbeing

  • Purpose: do your people feel a real sense of purpose, and can they see that you value whatever contribution they’re making
  • Support: do they have the support they need, especially through periods of crisis? Is there anything more they need from you?
  • Communication: are you communicating with them effectively, and making sure they feel listened to and understood?
  • Empowerment: do they have the freedom to make decisions and take actions where needed, and influence your organisation’s decisions?
    Understanding how your people feel, and where you need to focus, is essential in times like these – as it’ll help you create a more resilient organisation. That’s what our organisational fitness framework is designed to do – read our report to understand more.

A faster, simpler way to measure wellbeing

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