Academics suffer more stress than A&E staff

February 17, 2006

Levels of psychological distress among academics have been found to exceed those in high-stress occupations such as accident and emergency doctors and nurses, according to a report.

The study, produced for the Association of University Teachers, found that 49 per cent of academics had levels of psychological distress that required treatment. This compared with 44 per cent of A&E consultants, 38 per cent of nurses and per cent of the general population.

It found that 62 per cent of academics thought they were not coping with the demands of the job. They also felt poorly supported by supervisors and managers.

The study showed that although other professions had addressed occupational stress issues in recent years, the level of psychological distress among academics had not changed.

Part of the problem, according to the study, was because of academics' inability to switch off after work. They often took work home and used their holiday entitlement to catch up.

The report, Wellbeing of the UK Academy 1998-2004 , will be published shortly. It is based on the findings of two earlier surveys on academic stress. Researchers, led by Gail Kinman of Luton University, revisited the findings of surveys done in 1998 and 2004 and compared them with stress levels elsewhere, including those of A&E consultants, call-centre workers and the unemployed.

Ms Kinman said that, since 1998, academics reported that their workloads had become less manageable, that communication within their institutions had become less effective and that their managers had become less responsive to their needs.

Ms Kinman said: "Change in itself causes stress. A couple of hours of breathing exercises are all very well but won't deliver long-term results."

The study found that in 2004, 62 per cent of academics reported working more than the European Union maximum of 48 hours a week.

Ms Kinman added: "Worryingly, 41 per cent said most of their interests centred on work and that they found it hard to step back. If work isn't going well, these people have no sense of perspective."

There was evidence that some academic staff felt that annual leave was the only opportunity to catch up on research demands and reduce term-time workloads. "We found that 40 per cent of staff don't actually take their full annual leave," Ms Kinman said.

Roger Kline of lecturers' union Natfhe said: "Most people have suffered with high workloads and insufficient staff as well as a loss of control over their work. I think control is the killer - less autonomy and micromanagement cheeses them off."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the AUT, said: "Stress at work is a huge problem in any profession, and the extent of the problem in higher education cannot be overlooked."

A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said updated guidance on stress management would be distributed to institutions in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for Universities UK said: "While work will never be a stress-free activity, all organisations need to recognise the toll that excessive stress can take an individuals and organisations."

PRESSURE POINT

  • 49 per cent of academics suffer stress levels that require medical intervention
  • 62 per cent say they cannot cope in their job
  • 62 per cent work over European working hours limits
  • 41 per cent say their interests centre mostly on work
  • 40 per cent do not take all their holiday entitlement

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