UK Study found stress and anxiety of academics above national average during COVID-19 pandemic

30 November 2021

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

© Education Support

The new report by Education Support on “Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education” sheds light on psychosocial risks of academics and academic-related and professional services staff. It contains a dedicated chapter on the challenges COVID-19 has been imposing on the well-being of employees in academia. By surveying over 2000 academics and professional services staff in the UK, the study discovered that a mix of practical and emotional support proved to be most suitable for academics to overcome the challenges of emergency remote teaching.

The report showcases that the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected working conditions and well-being of academics in the UK, by increasing their workload pressure and causing longer working hours. Besides, they had to simultaneously cope with insufficient support when working from home and faced difficulties to manage the expectations and wellbeing of their students.

Consequently, academics reported that the rapidly increase of workload drastically intensified their work-related stress. Among other issues, academics also mentioned the expectation of permanent availability, lacking relaxation of deadlines and the difficulty of managing students that are under intense stress themselves.

According to academics participating in the study, practical support was beneficial to cope with the challenging environment of emergency remote teaching. Such support included measures like increased flexibility, adequate technological training and support and the provision of clear and regularly updated information. Currently, the situation is utterly insufficient, especially with many academics additionally managing family requirements when working from home.

The report recommends that complementary to practical support, emotional support should be provided. Such emotional support included mental health guidance, a kind and sympathetic management acting with understanding and responsibility towards staff, regular contact with colleagues and moral support, as well as access to psychological support and counselling. Thereby, particularly the lack of face-to-face interaction was reported to have an impact on personal and working relationships. In sum, the study found that 47% of higher education staff described their mental health as poor, with levels of stress and anxiety considerably above the national average of other professions during lockdown.

Commenting on this data, Rob Copeland, chair of the ETUCE Higher Education and Research Standing Committee said "This report highlights the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the working conditions and the well-being of UK higher education staff. Although the report focuses on the UK, its findings will be very familiar to colleagues in other European countries. As the voice of higher education and research staff in Europe, ETUCE believes that one of the best ways to enhance staff well-being is through meaningful social dialogue and collective bargaining on issues as workload, job security and occupational health and safety. We will continue to push for real improvements in these areas at both the national and European level”.  

Read the full report here: Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education