10. How EI reduces occupational stress in teachers

Summarised by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions."

Teaching is stressful. Every teacher knows that. But what can be done to manage the stress and reduce it? Will teaching teachers to better use emotional intelligence skills at work equip them to more effectively deal with occupational stress?

Yes, according to a study by Dr Lisa Gardner and Professor Con Stough from Swinburne University. They developed a 5 week program to teach people how to manage occupational stress by developing their emotional intelligence. When they used this program with 79 primary and secondary teachers they found a significant reduction in stress levels.

This article is a brief summary of their research. The 2 relevant papers are available at the bottom of the article. 

If you would like to know more about Professor Con Stough's work and research on emotional intelligence in school-age children and teenagers, please visit his new website:

Design of emotional intelligence intervention with teachers

  • The Swinburne Stress Management Programme (SSMP) was used with 79 primary and secondary teachers from public schools (59 females, 20 males). (The SSMP was initially developed by Lisa Gardner for her PhD thesis in 2005.)
  • Mean age of the teachers was 43.6 years, with an age range from 24 years to 66 years.
  • Teachers were recruited from the primary education sector (N = 24), the secondary education sector (N = 27) and the tertiary education sector (N = 28).
  • All sessions ran after school hours.

The focus was on activities designed to change an individual’s reaction to stressors, rather than changing the stressors themselves.  

The SSMP incorporates traditional aspects of stress management with emotional intelligence development. It covers two main aspects, learning how to:

  1. Identify stressors and use relaxation techniques to deal with stressors.
  2. Deal with the emotions that arise when feeling stressed, your own and others'.

The SSMP primary components

There are three primary components to The Swinburne Stress Management Programme (SSMP):

1. Conceptual information was given about the nature of stress, including its relationship to emotional intelligence and the value of developing emotional intelligence in the workplace. 

2. Self-assessment tools were used to build awareness of individual emotional intelligence strengths and deficiencies. These included the Genos Emotional Intelligence Assessment Scale, the Occupational Roles Questionnaire from the Occupational Stress Inventory, the General Health Questionnaire - 12, and a Physical Health Symptoms Questionnaire. 

3. Skills training was given to develop personal strategies to improve emotional intelligence and to manage work stressors.

On page 149 of her PhD thesis Gardner identifies the following as the key tasks in the emotional intelligence training program.

  1. Keep an emotional diary to document how you react to particular situations throughout the working day.
  2. Identify in given scenarios what triggers an emotional reaction in oneself.
  3. Identify the emotions expressed in faces (non-verbal signals) and in movie clips (using verbal and non-verbal signals).
  4. Attempt to put oneself in another’s shoes by reading a given scenario and then noting down the emotional reaction to this scenario from different viewpoints.
  5. Learn to ask for feedback from colleagues (as to emotional displays) more often (through role play) and then using this feedback to understand oneself and modify one’s emotional displays or behaviour if required.
  6. After learning to identify emotional triggers (see above), suggest alternative ways to respond to the given situations and identify the impact of these responses on one’s own thoughts and behaviours and the impact on others in the workplace.

Format of the emotional intelligence and stress training

  1. Small group training sessions rather than individual training sessions.
  2. Skills training via group interaction and shared experiences.
  3. Exercises to be completed outside the sessions to practice the skills.
  4. The EI training program consisted of 5 sessions of 2 hours duration per group of teachers.
  5. Weekly sessions with between 6 and 8 teachers per group. 

The five emotional intelligence sessions

  1. Presention of an overview followed by an introduction into the causes and consequences of stress in the workplace. 
  2. Introduction to emotional intelligence. Focusing on the EI dimension "Emotional Recognition and Expression". 
  3. Focusing on the EI dimension "Understanding Emotions". 
  4. Focusing on the EI dimension "Emotional Management and Emotional Control". 
  5. Summary of the program and an integration of the concepts of emotional intelligence and stress, plus group feedback and interaction with an emphasis on how to move forward. 

Evaluation of emotional intelligence intervention with teachers

The emotional intelligence training programme was evaluated in terms of its impact on the following variables:

  1. Improvements in emotional intelligence.
  2. Reductions in reported occupational stress.
  3. Improvements in psychological health.
  4. Improvements in physical health.
  5. Measures of job satisfaction.
  6. Levels of organisational commitment.

Baseline measures were taken 5 weeks before starting the programme and then immediately before the commencement of it. 

Participants were also assessed immediately after participation in the program and five weeks later.

Results of emotional intelligence intervention with teachers

The results indicated that the programme was successful in:

  1. Improving the participants' emotional intelligence.
  2. Reducing the levels of occupational stress.
  3. Improving psychological wellbeing.
  4. Improving physical wellbeing.

These changes were evident immediately after completion of the training program and were maintained (or improved upon) at the follow-up after 5 weeks.

Comments on emotional intelligence intervention with teachers

The 5 week program helped reduce stress. This is great news for teachers, as they often have little control over the stress that arises in the school from parents, students, marking loads, assessments, continuing education, administration, media reports, bullying, legislative compliance ... and more. This shows that despite the relentless stressors they do have a choice about how stressed they become.

It only took 5 weeks - what is not clear to me is how much time each teacher spent on the program during these 5 weeks. It included not only 10 hours of group sessions but also individual practice outside the groups. However, to get these results in only 5 weeks is excellent.

What would the results have been had it been of a longer duration? There are a lot of skills for the teachers to develop and 5 weeks is a short timeframe. Further studies of different durations would be valuable to ascertain the ideal frame for maximum benefit.

There is no evidence at this stage to suggest that 5 weeks is the best time. Some of the research on the positive benefits and reduction in stress achieved from mindfulness training, for instance, is usually measured over 8 weeks of daily practice. We need to know what time frame produces the best benefits.

Teachers' stresses change over a term. The chaos of day one of a new term is different from the exhaustion of week ten. A longer study into longer term benefits is warranted. Can teachers maintain the stress reduction over an entire school year? This is what they need to be able to do as the stress is relentless from one term to another these days.

Higher levels of emotional intelligence have been found in other studies to be associated with less occupational stress, less absenteeism and higher job satisfaction. This study is further evidence of the important role that emotional intelligence plays in workplace psychological and physical health.

Emotional intelligence training offers a potentially effective technique for improving individual emotional resilience.  

Questions on this emotional intelligence intervention

I have so many questions! 

For example:

  1. I would like to know if a program that just concentrates on the emotional intelligence component would be of equal value?
  2. How do the results of this compare to the results gained by other stress reduction or emotional intelligence interventions?
  3. Only a small number of specific techniques were chosen based on a literature review. However, there are many possible emotional management methods that could have been included, and we don't yet know whether the ones in the SSMP are the best ones or not. All we know is that they produced results. Other options which have been scientifically shown to produce positive outcomes include mindfulness training, keeping a gratitude journal, tapping, visualisations, loving-kindness meditation, being with nature, and more. Would other techniques have the same, less or more impact? Comparative studies are hard to conduct but if they can be done well they are very helpful.

For further details of this emotional intelligence study

"Improving Occupational Stress Through Emotional Intelligence Development", Dr. Karen Hansen and Professor Con Stough, Brain Science Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne; and Dr. Lisa Gardner, Atlantis Systems, Canada. Organisations & People, May 2007, Vol 14. No. 2. pages 70-75.

To read the full copy of the article click here.

If you would like to read Gardner's PhD dissertation which includes the development of The Swinburne Stress Management Programme and a full version of this study with teachers, it is available on the Swinburne Research Bank: Lisa Gardner. Emotional Intelligence and Occupational Stress. Unpublished dissertation. Swinburne University of Technology. 2005. 

Develop your school's emotional intelligence

There is so much that your leadership team can do to develop their emotional intelligence and the emotional intelligence of their school. We have a number of options to help:

  1. There is a series of emotional intelligence workshops, including: "Mastering emotional intelligence". 
  2. There is an emotional intelligence 2 DVD program "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".
  3. We provide a face-to-face 5 star emotional intelligence coaching package which can be conducted online or in our Kelmscott office.
  4. Emotional intelligence asessments can be conducted using the MSCEIT.
  5. We can also bring a whole emotional intelligence programme to your entire school for your students and teachers, under the guidance of Professor Con Stough.

For more details, or to make a booking, e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.

Develop the emotional intelligence of your teachers now and be an emotionally intelligent school.