Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

The Relationship between Wellbeing Indicators and Teacher Psychological Stress in Eastern Cape Public Schools in South Africa

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

The Relationship between Wellbeing Indicators and Teacher Psychological Stress in Eastern Cape Public Schools in South Africa

Article excerpt


Problem statement

Key focus

The link between poor psychological health and stress in the working population is well documented (Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1978, 1979; Stansfeld, Fuhrer, Head, Ferrie & Shipley, 1997; Tennant, 2001). Despite several decades of research into its causes, consequences and possible interventions, psychological stress remains a pervasive health and social problem amongst teachers (Dalgard, Mykletum, Rognerud, Johansen & Zahl, 2007; Fejgin, Ephraty & Ben-Sira, 1995; Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1978,1979; Stansfeld et al., 1997; Tennant, 2001). Worldwide, it is well accepted that teaching is a stressful profession. If not mitigated or treated, chronic work stress may result in burnout (Borg & Riding, 1991; Kyriacou, 1987; Laughlin, 1984; Raschke, Dedrick, Strathe & Hawkes, 1985). Job dissatisfaction and teacher absenteeism are also commonly cited as negative social outcomes of stress (Bowers, 2001; Hall, Altman, Nkomo, Peltzer & Zuma, 2005).

Whilst there are various studies reporting on teacher stress in South Africa, comprehensive studies detailing national and provincial prevalence are not readily available. However, there are strong indications that stress is quite prevalent amongst South African teachers and its negative consequences, such as absenteeism, are widely experienced (e.g. Van Bijl & Oosthuizen, 2007; Hall et al., 2005; Jackson & Rothmann, 2006). As a developing nation, South Africa needs to continue searching for solutions to the problem of teacher stress; otherwise, teacher absence as a result of psychological problems might increase further. This would reduce available teaching time and consequently learning outcomes. Furthermore, the search for solutions to mitigate against teacher stress can no longer be limited to traditional approaches of maladjustment or ill-being, but should also explore factors associated with positive psychological functioning and wellbeing, which can be used as personal resources against stress. Ulis would mean a greater focus on exploring indices or measures of positive functioning such as subjective and psychological wellbeing. These constructs can be assessed for their possible protective value against psychological stress. Ulis approach would not entail replacing one approach with the other, but would involve taking a holistic perspective to teacher stress research.


The majority of reported teacher stress studies continue to focus on the fit or misfit between the individual's resources and the environmental demands placed on the teacher (see Dalgard et al., 2007; Fejgin et al., 1995; Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1978, 1979; Stansfeld et al., 1997; Tennant, 2001). Hiere is a scarcity of studies on Ryff's (1989a, 1989b) psychological and Diener's (2000) subjective wellbeing factors in the teaching environment and their potential role as protective factors against teacher stress. This is despite psychological and subjective wellbeing factors being reported in other studies as having a health-protecting effect during psychological distress (Abbott et al., 2006). For example, Abbott et al. (2006) reported a positive relationship between psychological wellbeing and mental health. Also, Ryff's (1989a, 1989b) psychological wellbeing has been reported to alleviate burnout symptoms amongst mental health professionals during psychotherapy by Rabin et al. (2011). No studies were found reporting on Ryff's psychological or Diener's (2000) subjective wellbeing as possible protective factors in teacher stress in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

The limited studies reporting on the protective properties of psychological wellbeing justify the present study's interest in the potential value of both subjective and psychological wellbeing constructs in teacher stress prevention. The psychological wellbeing constructs of interest are the multidimensional constructs identified by Ryff (1989a, 1989b), whilst the subjective wellbeing constructs considered in the present study are life satisfaction, positive affect and negative affect, as suggested by Diener (2000). …

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