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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 9 > Wellbeing of Principals suffers under increasing workload pressure

Wellbeing of Principals suffers under increasing workload pressure

Harassment and heavy workloads are having detrimental effects on the health and well-being of Principals across Australia.  

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Issue snapshot: 

  • Increasing workload and stress are having adverse effects on the health and wellbeing of Principals according to the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey.
  • Work demands, stress symptoms, sleeping issues, and depressive symptoms are experienced more by Principals than by the general population. 
  • As Principals retire, other senior teachers are shying away from taking over. 
  • Our union believes employers have a responsibility to Principals as employees to ensure that support structures are available to them, as well as administrative assistance.


Workload, resources and support are still key issues for Principals, as confirmed in the recently released Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey conducted by Associate Professor Philip Riley and a team at Australian Catholic University. The survey is confidential, and is independent of all employer groups, professional associations and unions. The survey highlights the increasing complexity of the role and stressors placed on Principals not only as educational leaders but from also having to take on increasing administrative loads. The rates of physical violence and threats against Principals are also climbing, as is the stress of the job. 

In schools across Australia today, Principals are experiencing 1.5 times the number of work demands compared to the general population. Stress symptoms are experienced 1.7 times higher, difficulty sleeping is experienced 2.2 times higher and depressive symptoms are experienced 1.3 times higher. There can also be detrimental effects on long-term health and well-being if workplace stress is not effectively managed. Principals’ longer working hours are leading to increased risk of heart disease, relationship problems, increasing alcohol consumption, weight gain in men, and depression in women.

Almost one in two Principals and Deputy Principals received threats in schools last year, while 34 per cent experienced actual physical violence compared to 27 per cent 60 years ago. Angry parents are more likely to be the perpetrators in primary school, while students are more likely to be responsible for assaults in high school. 

This is a clearly alarming situation for which there is not one solution. Employers have a responsibility to Principals as employees to ensure that support structures are available to them, as well as administrative assistance. 

The high work demands on Principals are making achieving an equitable work-life balance and maintaining physical and mental health increasingly difficult. Additionally, as Principals retire, other senior teachers are shying away from taking over.

In the most recent round of collective bargaining for Principals in Diocesan schools, the issue of wellbeing was raised on behalf of members. Two Dioceses (Brisbane and Cairns) have specifically addressed the issue of Principal Wellbeing through the inclusion of a “Wellbeing Strategy” in the Collective Agreement. The IEUA-QNT will continue to support members in relation to health issues arising in the workplace. 

Members should always seek medical support as needed to manage these demands. Most employers in our sector offer an Employee Assistance Scheme that employees can access, but employees can also go to their doctor and seek a referral to a trusted professional to provide this support.

If a member is witnessing harassment in the workplace, is unsure of whether an agreement to protect Principal wellbeing exists at their school or if there is concern as to whether these provisions are being carried out appropriately, please contact our union on FREECALL 1800 177 938.