What if your working hours really ARE killing you?

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I couldn’t help but notice this piece in the Guardian this week. 



 “Now it seems that clocking up more than 55 hours a week means a 40% higher chance of developing an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AF), when compared to those with a better work-life balance.” Turns out that AF, which can be symptomless, massively raises your risk of having a stroke. The statistic 55 hours really jumped out at me, because these are almost spot on the average hours worked by a primary classroom teacher per week.



Source: DFE Teacher Workload Survey 2016

So, what are the other potential consequences of working these excessively long hours? For a start, it increases your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease by 33%, according to this study. (Although AF pushes up your stroke risk five fold according to The Stroke Association)

This Australian study found that working longer than 39 hours a week puts employees at risk of mental health problems.

Working more than 55 hours a week is associated with an increased risk of female breast cancer.

This study found increased risk of  heart disease, cancers, arthritis, and diabetes for women working long hours (although interestingly working moderately long hours was found to have a protective effect for men.)

So why the difference between the risks for men and women? Most of these studies posit that this is something to do with women working longer hours in the home as well as at work, and consequently being under more stress.Given that, across the general population, women do 26 hours of unpaid work a week in the home compared to 16 hours for men, this seems a reasonable theory. This poses quite an issue for teaching, as nearly 75% of the profession are female.

I suspect that none of this is really a surprise to you because personal experience tells you that when you are tired, you are more susceptible to illness, and it seems fairly obvious that prolonged tiredness is likely to put long term stress on your body, causing serious health problems. Nonetheless, upping your risk of a stroke by a third is enough to give anyone pause.

Teaching is such a brilliant job, the actual teaching bit of it. There’s no buzz like the buzz when a child “gets it”, when you can see the learning happening.  This is my 24th year of teaching and I can count on the fingers of one hand the teachers I have worked with in that time who weren’t prepared to go that extra mile for the children. I’d have a couple of fingers left over. The problem is that we are spending more time on the job out of the classroom than we are in the classroom, on an increasing number of tasks that have no impact in the classroom. Clearly there are demands on our time that take place outside of the class facing hours (those Powerpoints won’t make themselves) but if we are consistently working long hours, quite apart from the compromises we are having to make in our social and family lives to accommodate them, we are literally working ourselves into an early grave. Short term, we are not giving our best to our classes, our families or ourselves because we’re exhausted, and long term we are potentially ruining our health. 

As we approach the summer holidays, it’s a good time to make a few plans for next year. What if you followed the example of @MrKS1teacher and stopped bringing work home? Perhaps you are in a position to initiate some open discussions around wellbeing in your place of work? What could you cut from your workload that won’t impact on the quality of teaching and learning? One thing is for sure, if you keep on working those hours, you are putting your health at risk. How can you help yourself and others to put staff health on the agenda?

I’ll leave you with this thought. If a young person you love came to you and said “I’m going into a job where I’ll get paid to work 32.5 hours but I’ll actually work 55 hours a week. I will have to work evenings and weekends to get the job done.” what would you say to them?


Sam is a primary school teacher and founder of schoolwell.co.uk. You can find her on twitter or staffrm or send her an email.