Workaholism: The Educational Badge of Honor

Education loves the idea of the workaholic.

Workaholics can be found in every building in every school district. Whether it be the teacher who never leaves the classroom or the school administrator who never leaves the building, school culture loves to award a “badge of honor” for those who work all hours of the day.

Educational norms do us no favors. Teachers are expected to grade papers and plan lessons outside of contract hours. Administrators are expected to attend after-school meetings and evening events. It’s virtually unheard of for an educator to work a 40-hour workweek.

Leaders who do not understand this phenomenon and ignore the warning signs in their workplace will continue to perpetuate the ongoing cycle of educator burnout. By simply maintaining the status quo, leaders are embracing the workaholic narrative in our schools.

Alternatively, leaders who understand the correlation between staff wellbeing and job performance must consistently remind employees burnout is not acceptable. Only after a leader consistently communicates the dangers of workaholism and models a healthy work-life balance will staff feel empowered to stand up to conventional thinking.

Looking for ideas on how to combat burnout in your district? Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Honor the Contract - Staff should not be given work that cannot be done during contracted hours

  • Trade Time - Staff who put in extra work outside their normal hours should be offered trade time

  • Phone - No calling or texting employees at night and during weekends except in emergency situations

  • Take Breaks - Encourage staff to take personal days, long lunches, and breaks during the day

  • Model - Leaders must model taking time off by staying home when sick and using vacation days

  • Intervene - Employees who perpetuate a toxic “workaholic” environment must be addressed

As you read these ideas, you may think “but that’s not possible in schools.” There is some truth to this statement, as when class is in session students are a school’s number one priority. However, this does not mean educational leaders cannot get creative when students are at home.

Believe it or not, professional development hours and time before and after students arrive make up roughly 20% of an employee’s contracted time. Therefore, districts should explore every opportunity to reinforce a relaxed environment when students are gone.

Finally, I leave you with these wise words from Brene Brown: "If we want to live a life of meaning and contribution, we have to become more intentional about cultivating sleep and play. We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one... Do not celebrate people who work through the weekend, who brag that they were tethered to their computers over Christmas break. Ultimately, it's unsustainable behavior, and it can lead to burnout and anxiety. It also creates a culture of workaholic competitiveness that's detrimental for everyone."

Looking for another great book discussing ideas for combating staff burnout? Consider reading ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.


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