In this third and final invited blog post about the outcomes from the SOSNZ survey on NZ teachers’ experiences of stress, anxiety and depression, I comment on another of the common themes from the results: bullying.
Teachers spend significant energy on preparing and delivering lessons, managing their classrooms and helping students who, for complex reasons, may have difficulties with learning activities, concentrating or getting along with others. For every teacher, continuous pressure from these situations increases risks of suffering from anxiety, emotional exhaustion, stress and depression. And each teacher and teaching context is different.
But what happens when the main cause of stress and anxiety isn’t within the classroom, but outside it? This may be more difficult to overcome because by definition stressful situations like being the victim of bullying are unpredictable and concealed from others.
Often research and policies surrounding bullying prevention in schools are focused on the students rather than the staff and management. But the culture of bullying in the workplace is known to be a significant problem in New Zealand and this is increasingly evidenced in media and employment law.
Allan Halse, Director of Culturesafe NZ – an organisation set-up to raise awareness of legislation and support victims of bullying – believes
“…this problem will increase until there is more accountability. For instance, there should be consequences for all employers who choose to ignore or maintain the behaviours of workplace bullies.”
A large proportion of CulturesafeNZ’s clients are employees within the education sector.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, 10% of the initial 100 participants from our teacher survey commented that bullying – either from management or parents or both – was a major cause of their stress and anxiety.
In the initial 100 responses, additional anonymous comments highlighted teachers’ experiences of stress as a result of being bullied: “The pressure placed on teachers by management in planning and assessment and time management for teachers” or more specifically “A principal can make or break staff” and similarly: “The pressure from management and their unrealistic expectations of their staff”. I predict that when analysis is complete for all 700+ participants, the extent of the bullying problem in New Zealand schools will become more apparent.
Generally, the prevalence of workplace bullying links to commonly debated cultural issues of the New Zealand workplace, for instance the phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome (something I’ve written briefly about elsewhere). What is worrying (as highlighted in my previous post) is that teachers in this survey commented how they did not draw upon (or even know about) coping strategies or helpful free resources like the EAP. In view of the gap in academic literature on this subject, it appears the Ministry are sweeping this problem under the carpet. The NZCER run a survey which includes aspects of bullying, but there is a cost of subscribing. This skews the outcomes because understandably only those principals who see a value to publishing their own school’s results are likely to engage with it. Costs of participating in the NZCER survey are based on numbers of students in the school – which is unhelpful because an analysis of workplace culture would not necessarily be connected to its size – for students or staff.
In light of the new Health and Safety Act in New Zealand (which brings NZ more closely in line with other developed countries) some believe workplace bullies will be exposed and subsequently prosecuted. But WorksafeNZ do not (yet) seem to have fully grasped the well-established links between bullying and the emotional harm it causes; concentrating instead to focus their attention on the more obvious bodily harm, caused by physical workplace hazards.
However, teachers need help, support and protection from all sources of stress, anxiety and depression, and this includes bullying and harassment in the workplace. This is important, not only for the well-being of the staff themselves, but also for students because, let’s be clear, students learn best in a safe, caring and professional environment.
~ Dr Ursula Edgington