State should address causes of stress in teaching profession

Work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism in both formal and non-formal work places in both developed and developing countries. [iStockphoto]

Work-related stress is a growing problem around the world that affects the health of workers and productivity of organisations.

Work-related stress arises where work demands and combinations exceed the person's capacity and capability to cope. Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness/injury in developed countries, after musculoskeletal disorders.

Other sources of work-related stress include low pay and compensation to workers, conflict with co-workers or bosses, constant change, and threats to job security, such as potential redundancy.
In America, more than $133.9 million was paid in benefits to workers who had made claims related to workplace stress during the 2021/2022 tax year.

According to the National Health and Safety Commission in USA, work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism in both formal and non-formal work places in both developed and developing countries.

The teaching profession is the single largest employer in Kenya. There are 339,842 teachers employed in the country under the Teachers Service Commission to teach in both primary, junior secondary, secondary and tertiary institutions.

Whenever there is such a huge number of human resource to be managed under one employer, there are likely to be challenges. Organisational cultures of different school situations could lead to varied reactions that might affect the way teachers do their work. There is no standard organisational culture in schools, the smallest units of management of teachers in the teaching profession. This therefore means that for an institution to thrive in performance and ratings, teachers are required to invent their own culture of work to excel.

Different administrators adapt to varied ways of administration and management to realise the desired outcome. Good management leads to contentment and satisfaction by teachers and other stakeholders. Bad management practices cause discomfort and stress.

Teachers who are uncomfortable and discontented with the existing management with effects such as role conflict and asymmetrical bias are always compelled to seek transfers. Transfers are difficult to manage by the TSC, especially when many teachers are seeking to be moved at once. Transfers affect staff balancing in large regions.

Elsewhere, trauma related to past events at work places such as physical assaults, attack by strangers and disease outbreaks, such as the recent incidents at Mukumu Girls School that took away lives, affects teachers and could lead to stress.

Other stress causers for teachers include long hours at work, heavy workload due to under-staffing in most of our schools, tight deadlines for compliance to professional records such as schemes of work and lesson plans, appraisals filling and marking of books, boring work environment and over-supervision and high expectations from the employer, community and learners.

Lack of proper resources in many schools to enable high productivity by teachers could lead to stress since teachers might request the support of parents to facilitate success. Parents might see this as a burden and then turn the blame on teachers.

These factors might not be the main reasons of stress; direct teacher professional benefits such as few promotional opportunities, discrimination on benefits by teachers such as access to administrative opportunities and rewards for good work done, harassment at workplaces by opposite gender and lack of a structured way of motivating teachers may be a major cause of stress. Teachers can be motivated when they get an assurance that they can be getting regular salary increments after every circle of four to five years.

As the cost of life continues to skyrocket and inflation goes through the roof, teachers' salaries should be a constant concern for the employer so that as other Kenyans budget for their families with the realities of rising market prices of both food and other utility commodities, teachers are comfortable wherever they are.

Due to low pay and over commitment of the little earnings teachers get at the end of each month, most of them are stressed and demotivated. The Kenya National Union of Teachers made a proposal in September 2022 to the employer of a 60 per cent salary increment in review of the 2021-2026 CBA that was signed in September 2021 without a monetary gain for teachers. It is the belief of Knut that this proposal is factored in the 2023/2024 budget projections that will be presented to the nation this month.

Away from factoring in money in this budget, the TSC should strengthen the TIMEC Policy on Training and Mentorship of Teachers' right from the staff-room to the commission headquarters in order to address stress management and mental health challenges that arise from the cited professional challenges. Stress and mental illness can lead to loss of lives. Let's avoid it if we can.