Education International
Education International

Germany: Teachers in most stressful profession

published 24 January 2013 updated 4 February 2013

The Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) and Verband Bildung und Erziehung(VBE), two of EI’s national affiliates in Germany, have reacted strongly to research showing that teachers, as well as construction workers, are more stressed than other professionals. The study, conducted by the German trade union confederation, DGB, was released on 18 January and shows that stress in the workplace is not restricted to a specific workgroup.

Around 56 per cent of the almost 5,000 responding employees felt exposed to severe or very severe work-related stress in 2012. This was an increase of four per cent on the previous year. About 80 per cent of workers said that more was asked from them.

DGB says that employers have created this situation and it is demanding legislation against such stress. However, employers have denied any responsibility.

Two third of surveyed teachers feel pressure at work

Stress exists across all work areas from computer science to metal work: in no industry was it less than 46 per cent. Up to 64 per cent of managers said they felt under pressure because of their workload. Stress is particularly widespread among construction workers and teachers: the study reveals that two-thirds of them suffer from time pressure, feeling rushed. In comparison, shopkeepers (29 per cent) and public service employees (36 per cent) are relatively relaxed.

In general, a workload increase is associated with an increase in income.

DGB: employers responsible for increasing stress

Employers are not fulfilling their statutory duty to provide better health protection standards, said DGB Executive Board member Annelie Buntenbach at the launch of the survey. She said it was “outrageous” that employers ask only nine per cent of the workforce which psychological stress factors they face in the workplace. A joint statement by the DGB-Federal Employment Ministry- German Employers’ Federal Organisation BDA will be released on 29 January, in favour of a strategy to ensure mental health in the workplace.

GEW: misconceptions about teachers’ work intensity

“Prejudices and misconceptions about the work of employees in teaching and education jobs still widely exist, i.e. the wrong idea that, because teachers have frequent vacations,  measures for occupational safety and health (OSH) or even health promotion or prevention are unnecessary,” denounced GEW Executive Board Member Anne Jenter.

The DGB publication shows that these are misconceptions. Jenter said that in Germany, employers are required to carry out risk assessments by the Occupational Safety Act. Risk assessment means determining health risks in the workplace for each individual employee, the OSH-related measures to be taken, and documenting and evaluating these measures. This is required in order to organise a process improving working conditions, with the workers’ participation.

“The poor work-life balance of a high proportion of education staff means constant stress,” she said. The findings from 2011 for employees in the education sector are far above average in comparison to other work sectors. The amount of work tasks completed during out-of-work hours is particularly significant, i.e. almost four times higher than for the average employee from all surveyed industries.”

Good work does not come for free in the field of education and science, Jenter noted. Adequate resources for the implementation of OSH measures for workers in education and science must be set out by law in the budgets of the individual federal states, municipalities, universities and research institutions.

VBE: Better conditions needed

“The current education policy has harmful effects on teachers’ health,” explained VBE President Udo Beckmann. “VBE is fighting for frustration- and stress-free schools. There is better learning in a healthy school. School quality and teacher health are interdependent and need finally be treated as one unique issue by decision-making authorities and employers.”

He added that: “The policy makes it easye, arbitrarily determining different teaching duties for the different types of education. Any task given on top of teaching duties is an attack on school quality and teacher health. Improving classes and turning more towards the students need adequate conditions at school.”

VBE demands an adequate supply of school teachers, special education teachers, school social workers, school psychologists, school secretaries and janitors. At each school, there must be space for teachers, where they can calmly withdraw. Schools offering the expertise of different professions must become the norm.

“Teaching until the emergency doctor comes can never be an option to improve schools!” said Beckmann.

ETUCE: Students being harmed indirectly

“The safety and health of teachers is a priority of EI European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE),” said ETUCE Director Martin Rømer. “We believe a school should be a safe, healthy and propitious place for teaching and learning.”

Rømer underlined that “occupational health and safety problems can be harmful not only for the workforce, that is teachers and other staff in education, but can also indirectly harm the pupils and put at risk the quality of the education provided. That is why we support our German colleagues’ actions to achieve concrete change.”

The ETUCE member organisations developed practical guidelines and exchanged good practice examples of establishing risk assessment systems at national and school level which include psychosocial hazards.

An ETUCE work-related stress project was initiated to continue and deepen the work ETUCE has accomplished on this issue so far. In 2010 ETUCE began a European-wide research project to collect concrete information and facts on work-related stress amongst teachers. In May 2011 a survey was launched to gather data on the impact of psychosocial hazards on teachers inviting teachers from 500 schools (grassroot level) in all EU/EFTA countries to participate. Rømer highlighted that this survey confirms the findings of the German study.

The 2012 ETUCE Conference also adopted a Resolution on the prevention of teachers’ work-related stress, and the ETUCE member organisations, including GEW, have committed to it.

The project brochure on “Teachers' Work-Related Stress: Assessing, Comparing and Evaluating the Impact of Psychosocial Hazards on Teachers at their Workplace,” can be downloaded here

The Teachers' Occupational Safety and Health website can be found here