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Knowing it to prevent it
Unione degli Assessoratialle Politiche Socio-Sanitarie e del Lavoro
Nowadays, the teaching profession runs on diverse levels, often
conflicting with each other and difficult to manage, which often lead to a
state of insecure situation between, from one side, the increase in
requests and the load of responsibility, and from the other, the lack of
consideration for their role, resulting in vulnerability situations. This and
many other factors can create stress.
Social recognition of teachers:an emptied role
Teachers play a fundamental role for students; they tend to become a
point of reference with whom students create an emotional and
cognitive link. The educational process involves affective and
emotional skills that imply a heavy involvement from teachers.
Families, from one side, expect support in children education, from the
other, put in discussion and don’t recognize, too often in recent years,
the teachers role, which can become a prejudices source or target for
wider social issues. …
Favretto and Rappagliosi point out that:
In the past
School was held in great
consideration and, therefore,
teachers enjoyed notable
School has got a care and
training function, leading to a
devaluation of the role and of
the same teachers.
… Social issues that have their roots in the continuous, gradual loss of the role of the school, of the teaching, and of the same teachers, debased in their role by the specter of the dreaded "fund cuts" deriving from some discussed reforms.
Multidisciplinary and advanced skillsTeachers always are required new tasks and skills related to
management of new situations deriving from deep social changes, such
The increasing presence of students from other cultures;
the presence of students with disabilities;
new technologies advent.
Teachers class gradually has lost importance even for a surplus of
teachers in the job market and an increase in precarious conditions. …
… Nowadays, teachers, whose main role is to educate and transmit
knowledge, have to play several other roles, that can cause stress.
1. CULTURE MEDIATOR: Teachers have to transmit a culture based on values and ideal models that easily come into conflict with the "mass culture " ones.
2. EVALUATOR: Teachers have to be able to evaluate students in the most impersonal possible way.
3. EXPERT IN EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND TEAM MEMBER: Teachers have to be able to harmonize their own work with the colleagues one, to compare and improve themselves through a good relationship.
4. ALTERNATIVE PARENT OR PSYCHOLOGIST: Teachers have to investigate psychological nature, relational or family problems, to find out the causes of some unexplained scholastic gaps of pupils. …
… From a research conducted by the sociologist Alessandro Cavalli we can deduce that teachers really satisfied with their jobs are only 20%; 16% of them are stressed and 44% are uninterested, that is, those who continue to teach reacting in line with the “sine cura and sine ira et studio” attitude. The remaining 20% aren’t included in any category.
No category 20%
The work-related stress at school
Work-related stress can be defined in general as a “harmful physical and
emotional response that occurs when the requirements of the job don’t
correspond to abilities, resources, or needs of the worker” (National
Institute for Occupational Safety, 1999).
The data reported in literature confirms that difficulties result in
absenteeism, not only by teachers but also by students (Sosik and
Godshalk, 2000), and their profit levels are correlated with the
relationship quality they establish with teachers (Cadigan, Entwisle,
Alexander and Pallas, 1998; Plant, 1999).
During the years we have seen a succession of theoretical currents that
have tried to redefine and study in deep the stress theme. …
… Caprara and Borgogni (1988) define work-related stress as a result of the interaction between organizational and psychological characteristics of the worker: people may experience stress when they perceive a great lack of balance between the demands of the organization and their abilities. It happens because people are afraid of not being able to cope with them.
The stress definition that today seems to prevail is the one given by Cooper, Dewe and O ' Driscoll [ 2001]: stress is "the result of a process that involves individuals during their interaction with the environment, evaluating these links and looking for strategies to cope with the problems that have emerged " and not simply a factor that resides or in individuals or in environment. …
Cooper model (1988) explains the work-related stress through a discussion about possible sources of stress at work, conceived originally as "pressure" of the environment on the individual, divided into five categories:
1. Intrinsic job sources: all the physical and environmental factors that impact negatively on the efficiency of work performance (noise, vibration, temperature changes, lighting, lack of environmental hygiene; pressures arising from workload, long hours, frequent travels, etc.) and, above all, the factors related to the task, the so-called " task-demands ", as the workload, the time pressure and the presence of high responsibility, especially those related to other people lives.
2. Role in organization: A stress source is the "role ambiguity", i.e. the lack of clarity with respect to the task, or role conflict, that occurs when workers have to deal with requests that are incompatible with each other. …
3.Career development is a source of stress when subjective ambitions to emerge, to advance hierarchically in your organization are disappointed. It can be a source of stress even a promotion if people feel inadequate to fill their assigned role, causing frustration and self-esteem fall.
4.Work relationships: difficulties in relationships with colleagues, superiors, etc.. In this area five stressors are identified.
Incongruity between the role of position you want and the one you really play;
Team pressures to conform to its own norms. …
5. Structure and organizational climate: they are two other variables that, if you don’t feel as reassuring and positive, can cause stress.
Brown and Ralph (1998) identify possible stress sources at school.
Six different categories:
1. Teachers/pupils relationships: dimension of the classroom and its heterogeneity, the lack of discipline, the levels of motivation and general attitude of students during the lessons.
2. Relationship with colleagues: distribution of workloads, interpersonal conflicts and differences with colleagues, lack of communication, lack of collaborative spirit.
3. Relationship with parents/community: parents can also contribute to the appearance of stress experienced by teachers. From the point of view of community, stressors for teachers are for example low salary, the image shown by media in relation to the profession and the general attitude of mistrust towards the public education. …
4. Innovation and change: the frequent reforms of the educational systems influence stress levels, especially when they aren’t clear and shared.
5. School organizational management: the role of school leaders is central in determining teachers perceptions. In cases in which the general organization is not appropriate, or in which there is no technical and administrative support, stress feelings are higher. In this category we can find also the degree of teacher involvement in decision making processes and the perception of autonomy and control in career choices.
6. Temporal factors related to the task: an increase in number and complexity of tasks intuitively increase stress responses.
An interesting model, which tries to investigate the relationship between working environment "pressures" and worker response, especially in terms of "strain ", i.e. physical and psychological effort, is the Karasek and Theorell model (1990).
In particular, focus is on two variables
The request, i.e. the workload imposed by the task.
The control, i.e. the ability perceived by individuals to carry out their task and discretion in executing it.
The combination of these two factors gives place to four different work psychosocial experiences : …
1. High - strain jobs: characterized by a high demand and a low degree of control (they can easily lead to anxiety, depression and emotional exhaustion);
2. Active jobs: defined by a high demand and a high degree of control and discretion from people on their own employment, having so the possibility to express their own abilities to the best. This work typology helps people to reach a high productivity and learning level and increases their sense of competence and mastery;
3. Low demand and high control jobs: usually, they don’t give any problem of psychological tension to workers and are often carried out with satisfaction;
4. Passive jobs: characterized by low demand and commitment, but by an equally limited opportunity to make better use of skills. They don’t create stress, but can get bored and inhibit learning skills.
Consequences of work-related stressA very extensive literature highlights an equally wide range of symptoms at physiological level especially those affecting the immune and psychological system functionality with symptoms ranging from anxiety reactions, chronic fatigue to depression and burnout. Some physiological responses to stress include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate, pupil dilation, decreased salivation, gastric hyperacidity, increased sweating.
Brown and Ralph (1998) distinguish
the performance level
the relationships level
the emotional -behavioural level
In terms of performance, the authors suggest a pattern of symptoms characterized by difficulties in managing your time, inability to respect deadlines, desire to give up work, delegation difficulty, dissatisfaction with work, low levels of productivity.
At the relationships level we can see increasing aggression in relationships, increasing introversion, difficulty in relationships with colleagues, wish not to cooperate, increased conflicts, cynicism, lack of motivation to teamwork.
At the emotional-behavioural level, emerging factors are: loss of appetite, decreased self-esteem, increased use of substances (tobacco, alcohol, tranquilizers, caffeine), insomnia, alienation, difficulty to relax, frequent colds, non-specific joint pain, persistent negative thoughts.
Summary table of work stressors at school: Italian scenery
Profession peculiarities: relationships with students and parents, crowded classes, insecurity situation, conflict between colleagues, constant need to update.
Society transformation towards an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural lifestyle: growth in the number of non-EU students who require superior interpersonal relationships management skills.
Continuous evolution of social values perception (inclusion of disabled students in the classroom, pupils with Special Educational Needs, such as dyslexia , etc).
Scientific evolution (Internet and computer science).
Continuous reforms succession (school autonomy, compulsory education rise, early entry into the school world at the age of five and a half years).
Higher students participation in decisions and consequent roles leveling with teachers
Critical transition from individualism to teamwork.
Inadequate institutional role attributed/recognized to profession (unsatisfactory remuneration, low esteem by public opinion, etc.).
From stress to burnout
If stress is prolonged, it can cause physical illness, somatic conversions, psychological problems.
De Carlo (2004) underlines the existence of consequences also at the organization level: burnout can be considered a typical example of uneasiness in response to chronic stress, defined as a multidimensional syndrome that generates depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, reduced professional accomplishment and, consequently, low productivity, which creates difficulties to the same work organization.
The term burnout (literally " burst ", " burnt ", " exhausted ") appears for the first time in the thirties in the professional athletics jargon and indicates the phenomenon for which an athlete, after a few success years, is exhausted and is no longer able to give anything at a competitive level. …
… Since the seventies, thanks to Freudenberg, the so-called "helping professions", were introduced in the USA.
These workers categories, after months of hard work and dedication to others, feel burned, have a moral collapse due to a chronic stress overload that results from the interaction with people they should help (occupational stress).
Stress and burnout two concepts and two phenomena that could be confused as they have an affinity, but, since they aren’t identical, it is necessary to clarify the way in which they differ:
Burnout always derives from a stress situation, but, while stress is an individual phenomenon, burnout is mainly a psycho-social phenomenon [Rossati and Magro 1999 ] …
… Many researchers have speculated if it’s possible to consider work in education as a help profession.
Peracchi [ 1992 ] argues that, since teachers profession is based on teachers-pupils relationship whose purpose is education, i.e. personal and intellectual growth, it is to be considered part of the "helping professions " and this implies a "high burnout risk" for teachers.
Also Italian Journal of Psychology  supports the method applicability in organizational contexts different from the exquisitely health ones, provided that you consider the context and the culture.
According to Maslach , all those people who carry out the helping professions can deal with this syndrome, being " the most typical case, the example for excellence of a high-stress professional job". However, all those who work in areas in which relationships with users is central may be at risk of burnout, carrying out activities in which the main purpose is the cure, the help and support of others: doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, teachers, educators, social workers, and so on. …
… Cherniss identifies three burnout stages:
Stress: whereby demands placed exceed individual resources for coping.
Strain: the initial emotional response to stress which usually includes feelings of anxiety, tension, fatigue, and exhaustion.
Defensive coping: leads to changes in attitudes and behavior such as the tendency of burnout individuals to treat clients in depersonalized way.
Maslach, a social psychologist, who became a stellar figure in the emerging research of burnout and who in 1982 wrote " Burnout . The cost of caring “, resulting from a series of workers testimonials who were facing the syndrome, describes burnout as “a three-dimensional syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment …
… In detail:
Emotional exhaustion: emotional overload and subsequent emotional exhaustion is the heart of the burnout syndrome. Thus, the first response to a stressful interaction with other people is emotional exhaustion. As people become emotionally depleted, they cope by cutting back on their involvement with others.
Depersonalization: it can be seen as a defence strategy, manifested by indifference, cynicism towards feelings and needs of others, to avoid the threat feeling perceived in the relationship with the user. The worker will tend to behave in a disinterested way, looking for a minimal involvement and abandoning the initial enthusiasm.
Reduced personal accomplishment: At this point, the individuals feel inadequate about their ability to treat or help others. They tend to believe that they have failed professionally and chosen the wrong profession. …
… A significant contribution in Italy on burnout definition has been given by Contessa [ 1981-1982 ] who calls "short-circuited" the worker subject to burnout: if you ask any worker if he would like to be in ten years at the same place doing the same job and his answer is “I’d rather be dead”, that worker is a short-circuited one.
Associates the "short-circuited" term to the syndrome to let understand what can happen to those who work in continuous contact with other people
the overload of energy expended in your employment can bring in short-circuit the subject's willingness to help others as he did previously, being increasingly in difficult to manage negative situations that arise with such aloofness attitude.
Basically it seems that burnout appears as an imbalance between the investments of people in their job and achieved results, between demands and resources: “people give much and receive too little in return” (Schaufeli and Enzmann, 1988). …
According to Maslach and Leiter , the rise of burnout is due to six discrepancies between person and work that take place when "we are overworked", "we don’t have control of what we do", "we aren’t rewarded adequately for what we do", "we are experiencing a crisis in the sense of community and belonging”, "we aren’t treated fairly", “we live conflicting values".
1. Work overload Maslach writes: "in their struggle to increase productivity, organizations demand from people more than they are able to support. " People initially may be able to support an increased workload but the effort is a temporary condition of human life".
2. Lack of control People are much more productive when they have more autonomy, control, responsibility towards work and have as much recognition for what they do by the organization. If they don’t feel involved in a project, if they don’t have control over aspects they deem relevant to their realization, they may lose interest in what they do and can easily be “subject to exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness, typical of burnout”. …
3. Insufficient gratification Who choose to work in an organization often do it driven by real interest in doing that work, considered as a possible source of success and personal gratification, and with the conviction that the remuneration is commensurate with their commitment and effort.Despite the increased workload, remuneration often remains unchanged, desires and beliefs of success and recognition are diminished and consequently the worker doesn’t attribute to jobs that initial gratification sense useful to perform it effectively and creatively. …
4. Collapse of sense of community Nowadays, in organizations, work team is increasingly crucial and required. Mutual support, respect among colleagues and sense of belonging to team with whom you work are fundamental.
Problems arise when individuals perceive weak the sense of belonging to the same organization : When the job is excessive, you don’t have a degree of autonomy, there is a lack of personal satisfaction and recognition from organization, the same interpersonal relationships and the sense of community are compromised, leading to a " growing isolation ", " minor support and mutual respect "," growing conflict among people”
people are less motivated to work in a team, they try to get involved as little as possible in people's lives because even the organization don’t give them an appropriate attention. …
5. Lack of fairness Maslach writes that an organization behaves fairly with its employees if it transmits trust, loyalty and respect towards them who, in turn, will perceive the workplace as satisfactory.
It’s right that relationships between organization and its own workers are fairly, considering each employee for the contribution he gives to the organization itself, but this goal, although essential for welfare organization, is achieved with many difficulties.
6. Conflicting values When a person decides to be part of an organization and then to work with it, it is because he or she shares the values to which it’s directed, but very often it doesn’t happen.
Organizations may deviate from these values , implementing decisions contrary to the declared ones, and so, contrary to the employees expectations. …
… If these six factors are more accentuated in the same organization, the risk that its workers are subjected to burnout is higher.
Maslach writes that, given these causes, the most common consequences in people affected by burnout are:
1. Deterioration of the commitment Person’s initial energy "burns out", involvement becomes " cynicism " and efficiency gives way to " inefficiency " and consequently also the commitment in the job disappears.
2. Deterioration of emotions Especially in the Helping Professions, people invest a lot in their emotions, but often emotions are ignored or underestimated by the organization that considers them " irrelevant for work purposes " and could even " interfere with work ." So the initial positive emotions now could turn into "anger" and " frustration “.
3. Problems related to the adaptive capacity between people and work
Organization may consider the subject as incompetent. …
… Recently Folgheraiter (1994) has identified a fourth symptom: the loss of the control ability compared to your own professional job, which leads to a reduction in the critical sense and thus to a wrong attribution of value to the working sphere.
In summary, we can say the burnout syndrome is characterized by:
Particular moods (anxiety, irritability, exhaustion, panic, agitation, guilt, negativism, reduced self-esteem, empathy and listening skills);
somatisations (headache, sweats, insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, etc.);
behavioural reactions (frequent absences or delays , emotional detachment, reduced creativity, etc. .) …
Three burnout domains are identified:
1. Emotional exhaustion, i.e. the depletion of emotional and personal resources. Tiredness, fatigue and psychosomatic symptoms prevail. It may occur concomitantly with anxious or depressive syndromes, but not necessarily.
2. Depersonalization, i.e. people feel inadequate to the task and assume negative and cynical detachment attitudes and feelings towards the others.
3. Low professional accomplishment; people feel negative at work and have low self-esteem; ambitions decrease; people are frustrated by the failed realization of their expectations, because they feel their own satisfaction depends by external factors, institutions, reforms, etc. .
One of the first and the most important tools to detect the presence of the burnout syndrome is the Maslach Burnout Inventor.
The social dimension of burnout
For at least twenty years the burnout of teachers is a topic of international importance as shown by studies conducted in the United States, Great Britain, Israel, Australia, Canada, Norway , Malta, Barbados and Hong Kong.
On the topic, many comparative studies have been conducted among different school systems in countries such as Italy and France, Scotland and Australia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, United States and Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia.
The issue also extends to socio-economic aspects because it affects costs, productivity and efficiency of school system. …
… In Italy:
about one million teachers are at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder;
more than eight million students and their families are at risk of benefiting of an inefficient service because of absences and lack of motivation of teaching staff;
institutions have to face the socio-economic consequences given by an inefficient school system (for lack of motivation and absenteeism of teachers), an increase in costs (for supplies, sick days to pay, disability pensions, fair compensation, health care), unsatisfactory educational and cultural results;
Social partners whose fundamental purpose is to protect the workers rights are involved;
Associations of teachers, students, families, devoted to protect their rights and interests, are involved too.
The Getsemani Study and other researchs
Recently it was made public a study done by the City of Milan ASL that intended consider the public administration workers. It provided interesting and unexpected results for the category of teachers.This is the Getsemani Study, which starting from the analysis of disability’s applications INPDAP presented during the years 1992 - 2001, examined 3049 cases and compared the data of four professional macro categories:
3. medical staff,
4. operators. …
… Although teachers are only 18% of those enrolled at INPDA, the category represents the 36.6% of requests for disability. The questions cover mainly psychiatric disorders.
Results showed that teachers profession is subject to a frequency of psychiatric disorders twice than of employees class, two and half than of the medical personnel and three times than the operators. The frequency of these disorders, among teachers, is independent from the kind of school.
In summary, it was found that almost half of the applications of disability submitted by teachers relate psychiatric disorders and that as many as 75.1% of them are accepted. This percentage is higher than the percentage of applications approved in other categories of users (36%).
An abnormal “atypical mobbing” situation occurs, meaning a process of estrangement that teachers in burnout suffer by the structure where they work and from the users, directly proportional to the gravity of the manifested disease. …
… These results astonished the public opinion. However for who work in the area, these aren’t surprising results.
In 1986, Sinascel described a sample survey conducted on teachers of Lombardy, showed how the use of psychotropic drugs and tonics well represented the 52.5% of the medicines consumed by elementary school teachers.
About the teacher class in Italy several studies have been conducted. Here is a summary account: A research of 1979 (CISL-Univ. Pavia) revealed that 50% of teachers in the Milan area use tonics and drugs;
A study of the ASL of Milan on applications for disability between 1992 and 2001, shows that the teacher class constitutes 36% of the applications with a frequency of psychiatric illness twice than white-collar category, independently of age, sex and order of school membership; …
In the Florence’s province, approximately in the same period, a study conducted on the school staff (169 subjects), using the Maslach Burnout Inventory in eight schools, highlights the presence of teacher’s burnout is about 1 out of 3;
“Occupational Medicine” n. 3 2009 published a study on a non-representative sample of 2186 teachers in which 71% said that in their own life prevails occupational stress.
Prevention and intervention
1. Decreasing the dreamy idealist component respect to their work, by downsizing their expectations and reducing them to a more real aspect;
2. Highlighting the positive aspects of the work and not focusing only on those
3. Cultivating interests outside work to get distracted and not focusing exclusively on professional issues; …
Farber believes that treatment plan should be strictly personalized on the teacher (tailored: "sewn" as a dress), and can also forecast a psychotherapeutic intervention, with the purpose to follow four objectives:
4. Working in company of other people to not feel alone and sharing stress with friends and colleagues and eventually applying to a specialists in the medical-psychological.
Friedman (2000) and Pithers (1995) deal with the issue of preventing burnout indicating three levels on which effectively work with “ad hoc” training:
Professional level: workshops organization to promote the learning of new teaching techniques and to tackle real and simulated cases for sharing experiences and stress;
Interpersonal relationships level: organization of courses about teaching styles to adopt and reject; workshops focused on stress management techniques and improvement of cognitive style;
Organizational level: organization of courses for learning the managerial management of a class, techniques for internal communication and problem solving, involvement of teachers in the process of decision-making, activation of counseling services.
Regulatory and shared definitionsThe Italian and European area
The European Agreement 8 June 2008 defines some preliminary considerations:
1. Not all workplaces are necessarily affected by stress (Art. 1, paragraph 2);
2. Not all manifestations of stress are necessarily negative (Art. 3, paragraph 2);
3. Stress is not a disease (Art. 3, paragraph 3);
4. Not all manifestations of stress at work can be regarded as work-related stress (Art. 3, paragraph 4).
The current regulatory framework for the protection of health and safety in the workplace, consisting of the Legislative Decree 81/2008 and subsequent amendments and additions, specifically have identified "work-related stress" as one of the risks object of both evaluation and of a subsequent proper management of it.
The Legislative Decree no. 81/2008 contains an explicit call to the work-related stress and European framework agreement on 8 October 2004. In fact, art. 28, paragraph 1 provides that work stress assessment is carried out according to certain criteria.
The Europe Agreement was implemented in Italy on 9 June 2008 through Interfederation Agreement, the employer organizations and trade unions of workers. The objective of the Agreement is to provide employers and workers with a framework to identify and prevent or manage problems of work-related stress. …
The proposed model is the specific of risk assessment one, carried out through a series of transactions involving:
Identification of sources of risk,
The identification of the risks of exposure,
Evaluation and risk assessment,
The identification of measures of prevention and protection,
The program of measures,
Periodic monitoring of interventions.
… In general, it is possible to distinguish two groups of risk factors: the objective factors and subjective factors. To these the indirect assessment of potential indicators of risk must be added .
The first group relates to the type of work (content) and the context where it takes place: for example, the possible inadequacy in the management of the organization of work and the working environment (quality / quantity of work, specific conditions of the workplace, clarity on your role and your future).
The second group relates to the individual, is purely subjective and relate to personal characteristics such as model individual emotional and personality.
We should consider the potential indirect indicators as the finding of an examination of absenteeism, staff turnover, interpersonal conflicts or complaints by workers. Similar attention should be dedicated to a possible poor adherence and application of safety procedures, low sense of belonging, to the presence of poor initiative and reduced productivity. …
… In fact, they are usually the last to be evaluated in relationships, but in the field of school this is insufficient. In fact, just only in a few cases in which potential indirect effects of risk factors are detected, it is generally expected a second round of in-depth evaluation, in which you enter into merits of issue specifically through special surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, etc.
A good analysis of climate and structural organization of school is a way to look in the mirror and identify possible improvements: by doing this the risk assessment becomes as important as the result. Like all complex analysis, it must be conducted by qualified personnel with suitable tools. As a result, it is obvious that for this type of assessment psychological skills are necessary .
Finally, training and information of teachers are essential to have the necessary and appropriate knowledge in order to prevent high levels of stress that may be work-related.
Conclusion – finding the key words:what could be these principle causes of stress in teachers?a) Relationship with students;
b) Relationship with parents;
c) Crowded classes;
d) Conflicts between colleagues;
e) Non-EU Students;
f) Students with disabilities;
g) New technology advent;
h) Salary unsatisfaction;
i) Poor social recognition of the profession;
j) Lack of availability of technical / scientific teaching aids;
k) Relationship with the School Board;
l) Excessive workload
Thanks for attention
Unione degli Assessoratialle Politiche Socio-Sanitarie e del Lavoro