Low Staff Morale: Why It's Such A Problem In Teaching

This is my first post in a series that will detail human resources type issues that I think need addressing in education. Please subscribe for free using the links on the right to stay updated with the rest of them.

Sir Michael Wilshaw summed up education’s attitude to staff morale when he said, “If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low' you know you are doing something right." This comment effectively was an admission of what teachers had suspected for a long time – that education considers low staff morale to be a desirable thing.

It’s widely known in business that the exact opposite is true, and to be honest, I can’t find a definitive reason as to why someone would think of it as good. I can make an experienced and educated guess though.

Low staff morale creates people who are downtrodden and are more likely to accept someone’s absolute authority over them. This allows senior management to implement their micro management techniques more easily. It creates people who are in competition with each other rather than working with each other, which could be interpreted as some strange kind of teacher ‘free market’ which aims to drive up standards.

Although the reverse is true, some people may believe that pushing people to the limit increases productivity by simply squeezing more out of them. Also, there is a perception that having outrageously high standards reduces absenteeism, by making people so frightened of taking a day off they wouldn’t even dare try.

In reality, it’s a proven fact that pushing people this hard and forcing them to work when they are tired and sick reduces performance and productivity. It only allows those who put work before anything else to succeed, meaning students are deprived of contact with well rounded, family orientated people who are active in the community.

Not allowing enough compassionate leave breaks down the relationship between management and teachers, meaning managers need to come down even harder to get teachers to comply as resentment is built up.

More resentment is created by forcing schools to be run as ‘my way or the highway’ and reducing questioning of management decisions. This also increases mistakes by encouraging a culture of ‘yes men’, and it reduces standards by making teachers work in a way that is not the best for them personally.

Finally, an environment where there is no teamwork because teachers are selling each other out to gain immunity and favour from management will eventually erode progress. More and more reform will need to be shoved down teacher’s necks in order to artificially get progress going, which will increase instability and inconsistency.

There are two choices in management really – do you want autonomous, happy, creative staff achieved through high staff morale or do you want uniform, compliant, frightened staff created by low staff morale?

Either are good for a manager, although the latter is generally preferable for lower end, repetitive, unskilled type jobs that are becoming more and more obsolete as we move into the ‘knowledge economy’. Positions that the workers see as ‘just a job’ and wouldn’t do properly unless there were proper consequences.

That’s clearly how senior management and the government see teachers.

Have you experienced low staff morale at work? Have you witnessed it's negative effects on teachers, and students? Please comment below.


Anonymous said...

You have summed it up perfectly - so much of what you have said has been echoed in snapshots of conversations where I am. The last time I went off ill, I felt even sicker when I was making the call as was frightened that I was looking slack. Our current boss comes in ill, so why should we be any different? A few chosen people are favoured and publicly praised whereas others of us are put down publicly. Having tried to speak up, then put in informal capability, I now conform - I am subscribing to the uniform, compliant, frightened staff member - desperately trying to get out.

The Edudicator said...

Hello, thanks for reading and for the compliments. Teaching is horrible, where the sick and the weak are picked off, in the name of high standards.

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