Why has Lockdown been so hard on Teachers’ Wellbeing?
Updated: 3 days ago
Reflecting over the last year on the various professions which were impacted due to lockdown, our research in the workplace seems to suggest that Teachers, were some of the hardest impacted in terms of their wellbeing. PsycHR, as many if our readers know are a Mental Health specialist Training Provider and HR Consultancy, who also carry out research and data analytics. After interviewing various Teachers over the past six months, here are some insights into why their wellbeing might have been more heavily impacted than others and what colleagues and headteachers might be able to do to support within the education industry.
Around March 2020, government instructions around lockdown meant that schools were ‘closed to students’ (Gov, 2020) except for those whose parents were key workers. The approach taken by most schools were voluntary members of staff to attend school to provide childcare. One of the main difficulties for these staff members were the changes around procedures for Covid safety including PPE, social distancing, one-way systems, and fears around getting sick or inadvertently transferring the virus home to their families.
"Even though the key workers scheme was voluntary, I felt social pressure from the school and society to attend even though I was scared of catching covid” - PE Secondary School Teacher
Similarly, for Teacher’s who were not onsite, additional pressures were born from rapidly having to develop lessons to be delivered virtually. For many, using the technology for the first time meant that lesson planning, registering children for classes, following up with parents for non-attendance, feedback and additional admin, was taking on estimate 30% longer than usual including working long into the night and weekends. In once particular case, we were told that a teacher in her older years resigned due to feeling “out of touch” and “incapable” of using the new technology to carry out her role. Note that PsycHR point out the risk of a claim for age discrimination or constructive dismissal; so be sure to provide technology training, check competency, and provide further training if necessary to ensure your staff have the skills to conduct their role.
As virtual sessions became the norm with almost all lessons being delivered online, another challenge was ‘zoom fatigue’. The aptly named term "refers to the tiredness, worry or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms" according to the Psychiatric Times (2020). Research tells us, that the focus on the same visual stimulus for prolonged periods, millisecond delay in verbal-audio communication, lack of social responses due to mostly seminar style sessions – are all likely contributors to lower Cerebral Cortex activity. The Cerebral Cortex is associated to motivation, memory, attention and reward. Additionally, lower levels of Dopamine (happiness hormone), and Oxytocin (social bonding hormone) were linked to zoom fatigue. As such it could be suggested that presenting back to back lessons would not have been the most healthy or productive period for Teachers. In fact, these suggestions seem to have been echoed in our qualitative research, with over 100+ mentions or synonyms for the words ‘exhausted’ and 'tiredness'.
In January 2020, there seemed to be another tipping point when the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced that parents "should report schools to Ofsted if they did not feel that the teachers were going a good enough job" (Guardian, 2020). According to our interviews, this seemed to send a ripple through Teachers to the extent that there was a perceived lack appreciation and support from government leaders. Some also said it was reminiscent of a lack of public support during the period of “clap for NHS workers” where many teachers felt underacknowledged. At this point PsycHR would have strongly recommended it be a good time for reward and recognition within schools. Management could have considered implementing low to no cost initiatives such as awards, in an effort to improve the sense of value and appreciation.
Now, as Teachers have returned back to school over the last few weeks, PsycHR warn that this does not negate the impact to wellbeing that the virtual lessons, increased workload, zoom fatigue and more has had. In fact, PsycHR predicted that the transition would be a very taxing time for Teachers, with fatigue due to change, as well as both a physically and mentally challenging time to adjust. We would have most certainly advised a phased return to work, although understand that the Education sector usually takes direct instruction from the Government and of course this should remain the case. However in other industries or wherever possible and appropriate, we would advise considering a phased return to work to minimise impact on wellbeing.
PsycHR advise that now is the time to support wellbeing more in schools, by providing mental health awareness training, manager practical skills including communication and absence management, and ensuring policies and procedures are up to date. It seems that Teachers have had a very difficult year, and as with many of the expert reviews on the impact of the pandemic, there are likely to be ‘long lasting and long term effects to peoples mental health’ (PsycHR, 2021).
If you are interested in mental health training at school, would like any support in developing a mental health strategy, need advice on a complex case, or something else – contact PsycHR anytime for a free consultation at email@example.com or on 0208 350 9591
- Written by PsycHR & Zoe Scott