Why does a healthy workplace in K-12 education matter?

An in-depth look at why school districts investing in creating a healthy workplace that promotes educators’ well-being is not only beneficial for increasing retention rates and getting the best out of highly engaged employees, but also for better student outcomes.

A school district that cares about staff well-being and strives to build a positive and safe work environment makes schools a more enjoyable place to be. Generally, when staff feel valued, respected, and supported in the workplace, they are more likely to be productive and committed to their work.

Better Return ON Investment (ROI)

Research by Sun Life has shown that money spent on creating a healthy workplace that promotes and supports staff well-being saves an estimated $251 per employee annually.

In the Canadian education sector, the average work days lost per worker has jumped from 8.9 in 2014 to 11.9 in 2018.¹ Teacher absenteeism is partly due to greater job stress. In British Columbia, 51.5% of teachers reported taking a leave of absence due to stress-related reasons (e.g. workload).² When a classroom’s regular teacher is away, it may take time for students to adjust to and connect with their new teacher. As a result, teacher absenteeism also influences students’ learning. 

With this in mind, a benefit to investing in well-being in the workplace includes reduced absenteeism, with staff missing fewer days and students having a consistent teacher in the classroom. Research has shown that investing in a healthier workplace saves approximately 1.5 to 1.7 days in absenteeism per worker in a year.³

Investing in a healthy workplace that places well-being at the heart of school values and practices leads to better supports for school staff, greater student engagement, and improved student achievement.⁴

Key facts: stress in the K-12 education workplace

Stress and burnout syndrome are one of the most frequent negative experiences in the helping professions, and staff within the education sector – including superintendents, principals, teachers, and other teaching and non-teaching staff – are not immune. Here are some statistics on the state of staff well-being in Canadian K-12 education:

58% of teachers reported feeling stressed “all the time,” compared with only 36% of the overall Canadian workforce

79% of Canadian educators felt their stress levels had increased over the last five years as a result of work-life imbalance and just as many (85%) felt this imbalance was affecting their ability to teach

On average, Canadian teachers work 50 to 55 hours per week

30% of teachers new to the field resign after only five years of teaching

a legal responsibility

Employers have a legal responsibility to follow certain legislative requirements that apply to their workplaces. All school staff have formal rights and responsibilities under health and safety legislation to ensure both the physical safety of both staff and students in the classroom and to create a workplace that supports staff well-being and healthy lifestyle practices.

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Safety in the Workplace is a valuable resource available to all sectors that provides a set of guidelines that guide and support an organization’s mental health promotion efforts in a way that produces the best return on investment.

Approximately one-third of teaching staff have reported experiencing mental health problems with workload and stress identified as the most common reasons.⁵ As a result, teachers are more likely to become disengaged with their work and leave the profession altogether.

When staff are disengaged, relationships with both colleagues and students are affected and productivity levels are lower. Taking the time to invest in creating a healthy workplace is beneficial not only for boosting staff engagement, but it also supports a school climate that promotes mental health and well-being.

An engaged, healthy workplace where opportunities are created for staff to apply their skills, have some control over their teaching practices, and maintain positive relationships with school leaders will retain staff and improve morale.

A work environment that values the well-being of staff in K-12 education opens up the conversation around staff well-being and creates a space where staff feel supported.

Healthy workplaces encourage work-life balance by establishing clear boundaries between work and home life and minimizing the stresses associated with juggling the demands of multiple roles that school staff often experience.

By extension, creating a healthy workplace that fosters staff well-being has an influence on:

¹ Work absence of full-time employees by industry annual (via Statistics Canada)

² The Worklife of BC teachers in 2009 (via BC Teachers’ Federation)

³ Canadian Wellness Return on Investment Study (via Sun Life)

A scoping study into approaches to student well-being (via Australia Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations)

Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018  (via Education Support Partnership)

See also: Healthy Minds at Work (via Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety [CCOHS])

See also: Being a Mindful Employee: An Orientation to Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace  ( via CCOHS )

See also: Self-Assessment Tool for Measuring the Costs of Work Stress (via Health Canada)

See also: Positive Mental Health Tool Kit (via Joint Consortium for School Health)