Comprehensive School Employee Wellness Initiatives Can Lower Financial Costs to Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to poorer health conditions and more stressful working conditions among school staff—both of which are linked to staff absenteeism, higher turnover, and lower productivity. Because these challenges can take a significant financial toll, schools and districts may incur substantial costs if adverse working conditions and school employee wellness continue to be overlooked. Comprehensive supports to promote staff wellness and create supportive working environments—e.g., by balancing staff wellness efforts against the demands of daily work—can reduce teacher burnout and improve retention. Such investments can deliver staffing-related savings, bolster school finances, and improve schoolwide well-being.
While the widespread fear that the pandemic would lead to a mass attrition of classroom teachers after the 2020-2021 school year has yet to materialize, pre-existing teacher shortages—coupled with the sharp increase in teachers considering leaving their position during the pandemic—continue to be worrisome. Teacher turnover and shortages can contribute to increased financial human resource costs and a reduction in the quality of education, both of which adversely impact academic outcomes. Schools pay a high cost to replace school staff, and especially to replace classroom teachers. These costs include direct and indirect personnel costs related to recruitment, hiring, and training. Estimates of the cost to hire a new teacher range from $9,000 per teacher for rural districts to $21,000 for urban districts.
Pre-pandemic, the cost of teacher absenteeism was already high, at an estimated $4 billion per year nationally. Currently, school districts across the country are dealing with a shortage of substitute teachers, school bus drivers, and food service staff. Unlike in some workplaces, the responsibilities of most school staff—including bus drivers and food service staff—cannot be postponed when they call out sick. Particularly in the case of custodial staff and school nurses (and, in some schools, administrative staff who have taken on health care roles in the absence of school nurses), absenteeism poses serious barriers to the public health precautions that schools take to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.