Mental health risks in education


ETUCE urges ambitious legislation to address psychosocial risks in education in order to reduce work-related stress and prevent burnout. This is the essence of the Position paper adopted by the ETUCE Bureau on 7 February 2023. The document replies to a public consultation of the European Commission in preparation for a non-legislative Communication on mental health, expected in 2023. 

While welcoming that the EU Commission has finally decided to address the issue of mental health, which is an urgent priority for education trade unions, ETUCE regrets the limited focus of this initiative on the work-related dimension of psychosocial risks and work-related stress. 

Teachers, academics, researchers, and other education personnel are among the most affected by psychosocial hazards, which have a negative effect on the attractiveness of the profession and cause recruitment and retention issues in education systems across Europe. Exposure to psychosocial hazardsin education can have physical and/or psychological consequences, lower job satisfaction and decreasing commitment. Additionally, psychosocial factors are significant predictors of musculoskeletal disorders, the most prevalent cause of disability for education workers worldwide. 

Besides, ETUCE emphasises that a European legislative measure on mental health must consider the interplay between evolving changes and psychosocial risks in the education sector. The COVID-19 crisis and growing demands stemming from increasingly digitised education environments significantly affect the mental health of education workers as they have been left without adequate support. According to the “Eurofound Study Living, Working and Covid-19, during the pandemic, education ranked as the sector with the highest work intensity with one in three education workers feeling exhausted and emotionally drained due to their workload. 

Amid health, economic, and financial crises, worsening working conditions, increased workload and pedagogical challenges related to amongst others online and blended learning, as well as the increase of precarity and casualisation of staff, have all undermined the status and attractiveness of the teaching profession in Europe, with unprecedented cases of burnout, resignation, and early retirement among staff in the education sector. As a result, today, many countries in Europe are struggling with severe shortages of education staff.

Furthermore, ETUCE is concerned about the Commission’s approach to addressing occupational health and safety issues in a fragmented manner which weakens the effectiveness and the level of protection of education workers' health and safety. While current European legislative measures in the Occupational Health and Safety Framework Directive and the autonomous framework agreement on work-related stress have proven insufficient to tackle work-related psychosocial threats, the proposed initiative is not ambitious enough to trigger a real impact able to adequately respond to the needs of education workers facing escalating levels of psychological risks and work-related stress. 

Therefore, ETUCE demands a more ambitious and comprehensive legislative measure on work-related mental health, including psychosocial risks and work-related stress, as part of a comprehensive revision of the current legislative framework on health and safety at work. 

Improving the work-related mental health of education workers requires comprehensive European legislation with a strong focus on prevention and effective measures to counter psychosocial risks and work-related stress in the workplace, with continuous involvement of education trade unions. 

For a full text of the position paper go to:

ETUCE Position on a European comprehensive approach to Mental Health