Why it's important to switch off from work

With school holidays fast approaching, many teachers are beginning to count down the days until they can begin their well-deserved break.

There have been several studies exploring why it's important for teachers to switch off from work, destress and, simply, give their voices a rest.

For example, a study by UK academics (City, University of London 2015) found that Christmas holidays play a vital role in preventing teacher burnout and exhaustion.

The research, led by Dr Paul Flaxman and Sonja Carmichael, found that the two-week break, which falls partway through their school year, allowed teachers' emotional energy resources and psychological health to be restored.

Interestingly, the study also found that teachers who couldn't stop worrying about work during this break were also less likely to recover from the demands of the previous term.

‘Ensuring that teachers have regular opportunities to recover from the considerable demands of the job will help to prevent burnout. In my opinion, it is vital that these regular breaks in the school calendar are conserved,' Flaxman told media.

The research shows there are three ‘basic psychological needs' teachers need to satisfy during the holidays to obtain higher levels of psychological health – a sense of competence, autonomy and feeling connected to other people.

‘The effects of basic psychological need fulfilment were seen not only during the Christmas break itself, but also in the first few weeks of the new term in January,' the academic notes.

Earlier research from Sweden (Aronsson, G., Svensson, L., & Gustafsson, K. 2003) shows that there may be a very good reason why teachers are feeling so rundown and tired at this time of year.

The study found that many teachers found it difficult to unwind and recuperate during a busy term.

‘Being a teacher demands commitment and active involvement,' the report reads. ‘At the same time, the job contains elements that teachers may find difficult to put out of their minds when the working day is over. There may also be anticipatory tension prompted by the work of the day ahead. A failure to unwind and recuperate may result.'

The study of 472 educators from 12 schools identified possible associations between these states and work conditions, work experience, symptoms, and sick leave/sickness presence.

It found that ‘repeated stress exposures without intervening periods of rest, and long-term activation of the body's physiological stress systems, are reaction patterns that can be expected to increase the risk of ill health'.

The researchers outlined several coping strategies in their report, including planning, staff development, acceptance, expressing feelings to others, and asking for support.

‘Moreover, the recuperation periods of particular individuals have been shown to vary over time,' the report reads. ‘When people are in good physical and mental shape, they recover more quickly from acute strain, as demonstrated by studies investigating stress reactions before and after taking a vacation and by studies of individuals working overtime during lengthy periods.'

Teachers also benefit from giving their voice a rest during holidays, given they experience an elevated risk of voice problems due to vocal demands in the workplace.

A 2015 report from the Acoustical Society of America found that more than 18 per cent of primary and secondary school teachers in the US miss at least one day of work per year due to voice disorders.

An analysis of this study showed that background noise levels affect a teachers' vocal effort, and suggests that teachers' vocal health should be given strong consideration when developing new classroom standards.


Aronsson, G., Svensson, L., & Gustafsson, K. (2003). Unwinding, Recuperation, and Health Among Compulsory School and High School Teachers in Sweden. International Journal of Stress Management, 10(3), 217.

City University of London (2015). Christmas break vital to teacher's psychological wellbeing, says study. Retrieved from http://www.city.ac.uk/news/2015/december/christmas-break-vital-to-teachers-psychological-wellbeing,-says-study

Whiting, J. K., Jensen, Z. R., Leishman, T. W., Berardi, M. L., & Hunter, E. J. (2015, January). Classroom acoustics for vocal health of elementary school teachers. In Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 015001). Acoustical Society of America.

Do you find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work while on holidays? Which strategies could you employ to assist you to wind down?

Have you taken time off work this year because of a vocal disorder or a lost voice? How could you better care for your voice during the school term?

The research cited in this article says teachers need to satisfy three basic psychological needs during the holiday break. How do you plan to maintain a sense of competence, autonomy and feeling connected to other people these holidays?