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Burnout has far-reaching consequences for teachers’ physical health

Published: 25 April 2023

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Tables and chairs in a school classroom

A new study has highlighted the link between teacher burnout and their physical health.  

Teaching is renowned for its demanding working conditions, with such conditions likely to have far-reaching consequences for teachers’ health. Burnout has long been linked with physical health problems across a range of occupations; this study shows for the first time that this is also the case for teachers.  

Published in the International Journal of Education Research, the research by Dr Daniel Madigan, Hanna Glandorf, Dr Owen Kavanagh (York St John University) and Dr Lisa Kim (University of York) has highlighted the connection between teacher burnout and physical health problems. Burnout is a psychosocial syndrome that develops in response to chronic work-related stress. In an educational context, it is defined by three symptoms: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy. 

Their study, the first systematic review of research examining teacher burnout and physical health consequences, looked at data from secondary and tertiary settings from a broad range of countries. A total of 5,267 teachers participated in the studies, with an average age of 43.34 years old, 59.9% female participants and with 14.4 years of teaching experience. The study follows on from previous research by Dr Madigan and Dr Kim in 2021 which identified burnout as one of the strongest predictors of teachers’ intentions to leave the profession. 

In their latest research, the team identified three main ways in which teachers’ health is at risk from burnout; increased engagement in unhealthy behaviours, blunted stress responses, and inhibited immune function. In line with theoretical expectations, teacher burnout was related to more frequent somatic complaints such as headaches, physical illnesses and voice disorders. The researchers also found evidence for links with altered heart function and hormone responses.  

Dr Daniel Madigan, Associate Professor and Research Lead for the School of Science, Technology and Health at York St John University said:  

“These findings add to mounting evidence that burnout significantly inhibits not only teachers’ work experiences but also their lives more broadly. To help support our teachers, it is essential that schools and members of government take action to address burnout. Reviewing the many demands placed on teachers would be a good place to start.” 

Dr Lisa Kim, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in Education at the University of York added: 

“Our study findings add to growing research findings that psychological experiences can manifest as physiological symptoms. Thus, addressing teacher burnout is not only beneficial for mental health but for physical wellbeing as well.” 

The study findings underscore the need for burnout interventions. They also highlight the necessity for policy and governmental briefs to consider burnout as an important, concerning, and growing problem among teachers.  

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