About Workload - what is workload and how does it affect you?

Defining workload and when your workload becomes too much is a cause of constant debate, with many people and organisations having differing views. It is important, however, to know what is expected of you and what is reasonable.

Here is one definition of when workload becomes excessive:

Workload can be thought of as excessive in a number of ways. If deadlines are often missed or the quality of work is not what it should be, this may indicate that workload is excessive. However, from a health and safety viewpoint, workload is excessive when it is causing, or may cause in the future some sort of harm in terms of health or well-being problems for members of staff. Such harms may not be caused directly by workload but may be caused indirectly through accidents as these are more likely occur when people are tired or working very quickly. When experiencing excessive workload, individuals may feel overwhelmed, anxious, fed-up, and become tired or irritable.

(Keil Centre 2002)

The teaching unions have clear statements on what constitutes appropriate levels of work for teachers. You should consult with your union before developing any strategy to manage your own workload.

In 2003, the National Workload Agreement was signed by governments, employers and unions to help protect teachers across the UK from increasing workloads. It included a list of 21 tasks that should not be routinely asked of teachers and can be delegated to support staff, however changes to the agreement were proposed by the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) in 2014. For the latest information on your workload rights and responsibilities, you should also contact your union and/or consult theDepartment for Education's website.

You may also find it useful to review what is stipulated in your employment contract.

The effects of workload

Do any of these descriptions of workload seem familiar?

4 subjects, 18 classes, 22 teaching lessons a week, before the normal meetings / parents evenings / reports etc come around. Impossible to have any sort of life. I've had to bring 17 books home to mark over Easter. I work 24/7, 7 days a week and holidays. Trisha

My weekly maths planning was 7 pages long and my literacy planning was 5 pages long. Our medium term plans were the same as our short term plans, but in a different format, so it was a copy and paste exercise and a small bit of adaptation. On top of this I had to resource my lessons and mark everything using a new mark scheme. I was working 7 days a week, up to 12 hours a day, just to keep up with the paperwork. Jenny

I have spent many a "holiday" creating schemes of work and this affects both my health and family life. I was off sick with depression for three weeks at one point. Val

I leave the house at 6.30am and return around 6pm, have dinner and mark or prepare lessons until 11pm; I roll into bed at midnight - the job is killing me. Mark

I work in a Nursery and am expected to teach for six hours every day. This only leaves half an hour of directed time, which clearly isn't enough. I do the work I used to do, in my own time, so do an extra hour's work a day. Cara

(Quotes taken from the TSN Health and Wellbeing survey 2011. Names have been changed)

If you said yes, then you are not alone. One in five UK workers admit that they regularly work more than their contracted hours. 52% of teachers and education professionals work an extra 11 unpaid hours a week on average. Only financial institutional managers and directors clock more unpaid overtime with an average 11.4 hours a week. The value of this unpaid overtime has been estimated at £5,626 per worker. (Labour Force Survey and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2012)

If you are working extra hours, it is more than likely that your health and wellbeing has been affected. 96% of teachers responding to a Teacher Support Network survey said that workload had had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. (TSN 2011) Symptoms described in the survey included physical, emotional and behavioural problems, such as:

Physical

  • Exhaustion
  • Throat infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Stomach problems
  • Neck and back problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Damaged vocal chords
  • Ulcers
  • Skin problems

Emotional

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stress
  • tearful
  • mood swings
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of focus
  • suicidal thoughts

Behavioural

  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Lack of sleep
  • Relationship problems
  • Overeating
  • Undereating
  • Teeth grinding
  • Lack of social life

If you are concerned by any of the symptoms listed above, you should contact your GP or a health care professional. When these symptoms get too much, they can have devastating impact on a teacher and their career. Tassa was an enthusiastic, young teacher, trying to keep up with the volume of work expected her. It wasn't long until she realised she was running herself into the ground. (Read Tassa's story here)

Why finding workload solutions can be hard

According to the Teacher Support Network Support Line Counsellors, there are two key reasons why the teachers they talk to find it difficult to manage their workloads:

  1. Their colleagues. The teachers that contact the Support Line on this issue almost always have very strong work ethics. Many of these teachers feel guilty about reducing their workloads and are not comfortable in taking time off when everyone - their friends and colleagues - are in the same boat.
  2. Their pupils and students. Most teachers have signed up to the profession, because they are passionate about what they do. They really love the kids they work with and often feel that reducing their workload means abandoning the children.

What can I do about it?

While governments, employers and teaching unions will be discussing the issue of teacher workload for many years to come, ultimately it is up to you to develop a strategy that works for you and your situation. You will need to keep in mind that your workload and priorities will change over the course of your career.

You will also need to be clear on the following. You may need to do some additional research on:

Perhaps most importantly, you will need to know: - what is acceptable for you in your current situation

We will help you answer this question in the next section.

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