All Work and No Play is a familiar phrase and people are consistently trying to attain that perfect work/life balance. Standard working hours across Europe are limited by law to no more than 48 a week although some countries such as the UK allow people to ‘opt out’ in order to work longer hours. In France the working week is limited by law to 35 hours while North Korea maintains a mind boggling 112-hour work week.
But what are the consequences of working long hours? In 2015 the largest study of its kind, looked at 600,000 people from across the globe and concluded that people working over 55 hours per week had a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% greater risk of coronary heart disease. In 2012 a peer reviewed study also revealed that there was a link between working long hours and mental health, with staff working 11 hours or more being twice as likely to suffer a severe bout of depression compared to those working 8.
Teachers’ Unions have consistently warned about the excessive workloads that their members are currently undertaking, with teaching staff working up to 63.3 hours per week. While school days are usually 9-3:30 for pupils, for teaching staff the day can begin before 8am and finish after 6pm and run through weekends as preparation, marking and other tasks take up far more time than actually teaching.
The effects on teachers and teaching staff is clear, the lowest teacher entry rate in 5 years, the fastest rate of leaving the profession, fewer experienced teachers and soaring numbers of vacant teaching posts. What has been described as the ‘goodwill’ of teachers taking on additional responsibilities because they are passionate about their work and their students, is increasingly becoming ‘accepted’ extra workload as new initiatives, expectations and targets are being set. The pressure on schools to hit these milestones and targets has increased pressure on teachers to work longer hours in order to meet these requirements and thus, the 60-hour workweek is becoming the new norm for teachers.
This is clearly unsustainable, the teaching profession will soon become a toxic environment that will be unable to attract and retain the talent required to deliver even basic standards of education. Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan stated that “Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” If we fail to look after our educators we are not just damaging our educational system, we are damaging the very fabric of our society.
By Darren Jones