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K-12 workers are the most burned out employees in America, and it’s a sign the teacher shortage is about to intensify

June 15, 2022, 7:52 PM UTC
A teacher holds a sign during the March For Our Lives: Los Angeles protest, June 11th.
Keith Birmingham—MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News/Getty Images

Burnout is everywhere, especially in the classroom.

K-12 workers are more burned out than any other worker in America, finds a Gallup poll of 12,319 full-time U.S. employees. More than 44% of K-12 employees feel “always” or “very often” burned out. Teachers are suffering the most in this cohort, with more than half (52%) reporting burnout.

The findings are indicative of the chronic stress that has plagued teachers since the pandemic began, contributing to the widespread teacher shortage. They’ve had to teach children how to read over Zoom, help teens deal with deteriorating mental health, and navigate changing COVID-19 protocols. Along the way, they’ve been asked to sacrifice their life and health as they worked through the height of the pandemic and mass school shootings

These added responsibilities to an already underpaid and overworked profession have nearly doubled the burnout gap between K-12 employees and those working in all other industries. When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, 36% of K-12 employees reported burnout compared to the 28% of all workers who felt the same—a difference of eight percentage points. Now, that chasm sits at 14 percentage points, with 30% of all workers citing burnout compared to the 44% of K-12 employees.

College and university educators follow second with a 35% burnout rate, indicating that education workers overall are stressed and overwhelmed. Those working professional services and government or public policy aren’t far behind, with finance workers feeling the least burned out.

Burnout is hitting women the hardest across all sectors, which also explains a lot about why it’s affecting K-12 employees so much. Most teachers are women, especially in public schools. More than half of K-12 female teachers feel burned out, compared to 44% of male teachers.

Regardless of gender, the stress is enough to drive teachers to quit.

America is in the midst of a teacher shortage

A March study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 44% of public schools currently have full or part-time teaching vacancies. And we haven’t seen the full effects of the teacher shortage just yet—over half of U.S. teachers are thinking of leaving their jobs, according to a March 2022 survey from the National Education Association.

“We have about 300,000 teachers who actually leave every single year, many before retirement,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told Yahoo Finance Live. “It’s not just about new teachers. It’s also a retention issue.”

Some teachers retired early and others have been stuck in quarantine. Even the National Guard stepped in as substitutes during a surge of COVID-19 cases. But many have just had it with the mental toll of teaching in today’s economy.

Working remotely has made them realize that they could ask for a better work-life balance in a different field. Companies have woken up to the transferable skills that teachers offer, as the Wall Street Journal reports that many teachers have been snapped up by corporate business. 

Teachers found a competitive edge during the Great Resignation, taking to TikTok to share their stories of finding more flexible and better paying work.

As Allison Springer, who quit her job as an art teacher in 2021 to work as a freelance social media consultant, told Fortune, “I got a glimpse of what my life could be like if I had a little bit more freedom and if I had a job that didn’t require so much of me all the time.”

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