Why college burnout especially affects young faculty

Long working hours, lack of rest, emotional and emotional burden, risk of interpersonal violence, lack of control over work due to lack of material resources, insecurity and job instability: this list describes some of the difficulties that university teachers face every day.

Although the teaching load itself has emerged as a cause of stress, increased involvement in administrative tasks and the pressure on professorial researchers to produce science are the two burnout factors most commonly cited by university professors. Specifically, on this last theme, many spoke of an almost “crazy” quest to increase production, which leads to fatigue, stress, and often depression.

Apparently, they’re not the only problem: workplace stress is an everyday problem for a large portion of the world’s population. In recent decades, the number of cases has continued to grow to the point where it has begun to be considered a public health problem.

Any employee who works in public or simply with other people can experience burnout, from teachers to social workers, prison officers or salespeople.

psychological, spiritual and economic effects

In recent years, numerous technological and organizational changes in the workplace, as well as sociodemographic and political changes, including globalization, are leading to the emergence of new psychosocial risks.

As well as affecting your physical and mental health, stress has a huge socioeconomic impact on employers and the country itself. Specifically, Burned out Burnout is the result of chronic occupational stress and was listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational risk in 2019.

Risky occupation

The teaching profession and its working environment meet a number of conditions that make it a dangerous profession, so much so that the International Labor Organization itself in 1981 considered it a physically and mentally risky profession.

There is no doubt that teaching is a complex profession and filled with responsibilities. Their work is generally recognized by society, although the industry often lacks due attention to occupational health and risk prevention, and many times its working conditions could be greatly improved.

In fact, teachers are one of the groups most affected by stress and other pressures (such as dysphonia, insomnia, gastritis or anxiety), which are mainly caused by the work and socio-economic realities in which they live. All of this also has a direct impact on the quality of education, as the OECD itself shows.

Although research on work stress in the education sector has focused primarily on primary and secondary education, teachers are a group whose working conditions have been particularly studied.

However, the university academic environment is also increasingly recognized as a place that creates stress for teachers due to psychosocial and organizational factors. In recent years, this topic has become a high-profile multidisciplinary research frontier.

case study

At the Pablo de Olavide University of Seville, we recently conducted a case study on burnout among university teachers. The purpose of this work was to investigate the relationship between the level of job demands of university professors and their physical and mental health.

The total sample size is 212 teachers, with an average age of 46.6 years and 15.2 years of professional experience. Our starting hypothesis is that the relationship between burnout and the intensity of contact with users (in this case, students)—a key factor in the initial development of the burnout concept—is not decisive for university professors.

In other words, although a significant number of teachers will report feeling exhausted, this is not due to professional demands for direct contact with users that occur in other social professions, but is fundamentally due to organizational issues.

Work experience as a protective factor

In fact, the results bear it out: University professors are generally satisfied with their jobs and relationships with their students, but at the same time, in many cases they claim to feel emotionally burned out. The demand for teachers is greater in the age group between 36 and 55 years, and as a result, more burnout issues are reported.

These results are largely consistent with many recent studies, such as those of Bedoya (2017), Rodríguez (2018) or Keser (2019), which agree that emotional exhaustion is related to job seniority in this professional field. Therefore, experienced people are less exhausted.

According to these studies, teachers over 50 years old will show greater personal achievements compared with teachers of other age groups; on the other hand, younger teachers will experience higher levels of fatigue.

Although more research is needed, these results are likely related to contract instability typical of the initial stages of a career.

It is therefore concluded that work experience appears to be a protective factor against burnout, suggesting the importance of preventive interventions by universities, primarily with new teachers.

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