Why wellness centres for teachers are not the solution

Well, not the first solution to solve the issue of teacher burnout, anyway.

Last week my social media feed served up a story of a school in the United States that has established a wellness centre on campus for staff only. District officials are claiming it helps “teachers and staff de-stress over the course of a hectic workday.”

My concern is that Australian school principals will jump to creating wellness centres for staff, believing they have addressed the issues of staff wellbeing and teacher burnout. I commend them for recognising the issue and taking action, but caution them.

For the majority of schools in Australia right now (and I suspect in the USA as well), an initiative such as this would be treating the symptom, not the cause.

Here’s why…

The overwhelming research on the topic screams the number one issue impacting on teacher wellbeing is workload. Here’s a quick summation of the research into teacher workloads in Australia.

  • Approximately 78% of teachers surveyed in Victoria think their workload is unmanageable.1 In Tasmania2 and Queensland3 it is 75%. That’s three quarters of the teaching workforce in those states.
  • In New South Wales, 91% of teachers indicated administrative demands introduced during the past five years were obstructing their teaching work.4 Similarly in Western Australia, 91.4% of teachers and school leaders said administrative tasks had increased. 5
  • Heavy workload is the most common factor for leaving the teaching profession, for both primary and secondary teachers surveyed in 2014.6 A research project for Catholic Education Commission of Victoria7 showed 18% of teachers surveyed considered leaving teaching most to all of the time.
  • Working late or on weekends was the highest rated workload management technique for teachers, indicating their workload intrudes on non-work hours.8

Creating a wellness room does not address workload.

Right now, the vast majority of teachers are not routinely taking a 15 minute morning tea or 30 minute lunch break.

  • A Study of Work Practices in Tasmanian Government Schools shows only 13% of teachers had a lunch break fairly often or very often in the month prior to the survey.9 In Queensland, the average was 14%.10

If teachers are not able to take an uninterrupted meal break, why would we assume they are likely to take time in their day to visit the wellness centre? 

The biggest health issue facing educators is sleep.

  • Results from the Teachers Thriving Work-Life Balance Quiz places sleep as most common issue among teachers and leaders, with 72.5% indicating they do not get adequate sleep and thinking about work interrupts their sleep.
  • The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey11 has highlighted principals experience sleep difficulties 2.2 times higher than the general population.

The impact on sleep is not yet widely acknowledged within the profession and very little research exists regarding sleep deprivation in teachers. Drawing on research from other fields, would indicate the problem will be largely addressed outside of work, and is unlikely to be adequately resolved by visiting a wellness centre during the school day.

In a follow up post I plan to outline more effective strategies principals could adopt in their schools to address teacher wellbeing.


  1. Weldon, Paul R. and Ingvarson, Lawrence. (2016) School Staff Workload Study: Final Report to the Australian Education Union – Victorian Branch. https://research.acer.edu.au/tll_misc/27/
  2. Rothman, Sheldon; Ingvarson, Lawrence C.; Weldon, Paul R.; Radloff, Ali; and Matthews, Darren. (2017) A Study of Work Practices in Tasmanian Government Schools: Final report to the Australian Education Union – Tasmanian Branch. https://research.acer.edu.au/workforce/6
  3. Rothman, Sheldon; Ingvarson, Lawrence; and Matthews, Darren. (2018) Queensland teacher workload study: Final report to the Queensland Teachers’ Union. https://research.acer.edu.au/workforce/7
  4. McGrath-Champ, S. and Wilson, R. and Stacey, M. and Fitzgerald, S. (2018) Understanding Work in Schools: The Foundations of Teaching and Learning, Understanding Work in Schools: The Foundation for Teaching and Learning – 2018 Report to the NSW Teachers Federation. Curtin University of Technology, School of Management. https://news.nswtf.org.au/application/files/7315/3110/0204/Understanding-Work-In-Schools.pdf
  5. McGrath-Champ, S. Wilson, R. Stacey, M. & Fitzgerald, S. (2019). Understanding Work in WA Public Schools: 2019 Report to the State School Teachers Union of WA. Curtin University, School of Management. http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11937/76092
  6. Willet, M, Segal, D, Walford, W & (Ernst & Young), June 2014,‘National Teaching Workforce Dataset data analysis report’, Canberra: Australian Government – Department of Education, viewed 3 October 2019 https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/ntwd_data_analysis_report.pdf
  7. Nous Group (2018) Primary principal, Deputy principal and teacher workload reviews, Report for Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. http://www2.ceosale.catholic.edu.au/uploadedFiles/05_Employment/Workload_Review/Nous%20Workload%20Review%20report.pdf
  8. Brough, P., Morrow, R., & Harding, L. (2016). Supporting the Educators: Occupational stress and well-being across the teaching career span. Griffith University. Retrieved from https://cdn.qct.edu.au/pdf/Research/SupportingTheEducators-OccupationalStressAndWellbeingAcrossTheTeachingCareerSpan(2016).pdf
  9. Rothman, Sheldon; Ingvarson, Lawrence C.; Weldon, Paul R.; Radloff, Ali; and Matthews, Darren. (2017) A Study of Work Practices in Tasmanian Government Schools: Final report to the Australian Education Union – Tasmanian Branch. https://research.acer.edu.au/workforce/6
  10. Rothman, Sheldon; Ingvarson, Lawrence; and Matthews, Darren. (2018) Queensland teacher workload study: Final report to the Queensland Teachers’ Union. https://research.acer.edu.au/workforce/7
  11. Riley, Philip. (2018) The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey. Fitzroy: Australian Catholic University. https://www.principalhealth.org/au/2018_AU_Final_Report.pdf

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