The Importance of Work-Life Balance in Education – 5 Tips for Effectively Relaxing over the Christmas Break

Elliot Foster
Graduate Organisational Psychologist
11th December 2019

Over the last decade, stress levels amongst those working in education have become an increasing cause for concern. Even though both the awareness of mental health and the volume of support available to those in need has increased, levels of stress amongst those working in education has continued to increase. 

In a joint report between Education Support and YouGov released last month, 72% of teachers and 84% of senior leaders reported being stressed at least once over the last year. Even more worrying was that 34% stated that they had “experienced mental health issues over the last year”. Unfortunately, as alarming as these figures are, they are not surprising. The proportion of those working in education feeling stressed and/or experiencing mental health issues has increased every year since these reports began in 2017.

One major source cited for this worrying trend is the increasing number of hours individuals in education spend working rather than relaxing. Last year, 33% of teachers and 65% of senior leaders worked more than 51 hours per week. Although it may feel necessary to work this many hours in order to keep up with the seemingly ever-increasing workload, evidence shows that such an unhealthy work-life balance can severely impact both physical and mental health.  

“Unfortunately I’m not surprised by these findings … teachers are working too long, in highly stressed conditions” 

Mary Bousted, Joint General-Secretary of The National Education Union

Working more, and relaxing less is dangerous to both your mental and physical health as it often creates a ‘vicious circle’. Think about it like this. The more hours worked, the more time that is required to fully recover. But unfortunately, working more hours also means that there is less time in the day for relaxation. This can often lead to individuals returning to work before they are fully refreshed, where they work again and end up needing even more relaxation time that they do not have.

If this ‘vicious circle’ occurs over an extended period of time, it can lead to fatigue, increased work strain and even decreased life satisfaction [1]. All of which can negatively impact both mental and physical health.

74% of teachers surveyed felt unable to switch off and relax when they finally left work.

Teacher Wellbeing Index, 2019

An obvious fix for this issue would be for those working in education to work less and relax more, but as we know, this is rarely possible. Those working in education are stretched, with high levels of demand placed on them by leadership, and are often so committed to helping their pupils that they feel unable to reduce the amount of work that they are doing.

Therefore, another way of combatting this issue is to maximise the time that is available to relax and recover. To do this, it is key that individuals understand how to best use this time to relax effectively.

To help with this, we’ve put together our 5 top tips for effectively relaxing over the well-earned Christmas break. Following even just one of these tips will help you to recover more, meaning that you will be less stressed and more refreshed when you return to work in January [2] [3].

1. Make time to do things that you enjoy

It may sound simple, but making time for things that you enjoy doing during the holiday period is a great way of relaxing.

It leads to something called ‘positive affect’ and increases the volume of positive emotions that you feel. Evidence suggests that this is essential for buffering against adversity as well as stress [4].

2. Rest and Recover

Having said this, make sure you take some time to rest. Even though you may feel like you don’t want to waste your holiday in bed, having a few lie-ins will allow your body and mind more time to recover.

By doing this, you’ll be less tired, more likely to enjoy the stuff that you should be enjoying and be fully recovered for when you return to school.

3. Turn off your school email

We know it’s difficult. Individuals working in education are some of the most committed to their professions and may want to be contactable in case something goes wrong.

But as much as email allows quick and easy communication, it can also be a nuisance. Constant notifications and an expectation to reply rapidly can cause work tasks to leak into time dedicated for relaxation with your family or friends. Not only can this lead to tension, but it also reduces the amount of time available to detach and recover from work.

To combat this, let the necessary people know that you will not be contactable via email over the holiday period, or at least on which dates and times you can be contacted. Use an automatic reply function to make those trying to contact you over the holiday aware of how often you will be checking your email. If you want to, include your phone number to use in case of an emergency.

4. See people not involved at school

Although many of your closest friends may also be your colleagues, try and increase the amount of time that you spend with people that you wouldn’t see at school.

Not only will this mean that you will see people that you haven’t seen in a long time, but you will be less likely to talk about your work-life. This is key, as mentally ‘detaching’ yourself from work for increased periods triggers recovery mechanisms and allows strain and negative mood that may have developed to dissipate [3]

5. Plan when you are going to do work

Unfortunately, those working in education often need to use holidays to catch up on work that wasn’t completed during the previous term. Although there may be a need to do some work, it will help if you plan when you are going to do this so that it doesn’t end up spreading into your relaxation time.

Make sure you set aside specific times during the holiday when you are going to do that catch-up and prep work for the next term. Doing this will mean that you are less likely to be constantly thinking about the work that needs to be done, meaning that the majority of your holiday is spent relaxing rather than worrying about the work that needs doing.

I hope these tips will be helpful for you over your well-earned Christmas break and allow you to return to work fully recovered.

Everyone at Worth-it would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the continuous support during 2019, and to send you all our best wishes for Christmas and the New Year ahead.

Let us know your thoughts and if you’ve got any tips of your own share them in the comments below!

[1] D. S. Carlson, K. M. Kacmar and L. J. Williams, “Construction and initial validation of a multidimensional measure of work-family conflict,” Journal of Vocational behavior, vol. 56, no. 2, pp. 249-276, 2000.

[2] S. Sonnentag and C. Fritz, “The Recovery Experience Questionnaire: development and validation of a measure for assessing recuperation and unwinding from work,” Journal of occupational health psychology, vol. 12, no. 3, p. 204, 2007.

[3] S. Sonnentag and C. Fritz, “Recovery from job stress: The stressor‐detachment model as an integrative framework,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 36, no. S1, pp. S72-S103, 2015. 

[4] B. L. Fredrickson and T. Joiner, “Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being.,” Psychological science, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 172-175, 2002. 

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