Principals must beware of 'obsessive passion' for job – expert

Principals must beware of

When looking at the data from the Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey each year, the report’s researchers notice a curious trend.

As principals experience growing levels of violence, bullying, threats, intimidation, harassment and administrative work, so too grows their love of the job.

This becomes especially telling when looking at the rate of job satisfaction among school principals (74%) compared to the general population (65%).  

“Job satisfaction amongst principals has been the highest it’s been since the inception of the survey,” the report’s chief investigator, Theresa Dicke, told The Educator.

“The increases in positive aspects of wellbeing such as commitment, social support and job satisfaction indicate that facing and dealing this crisis might have strengthened the ties and relationships of educators, which in turn positively affected their health and wellbeing”.

Dicke said the stronger engagement that principals had with students, teachers and parents throughout 2020 may support a larger outcome of job satisfaction in the profession.

“Principals were praised for a job well done during these unprecedented times”.

Obsessive vs harmonious passion

One of the report’s authors, Phil Parker, Professor at the ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, said an underlying issue is the “obsessive passion” that principals have for their job.

“There are principals who have an obsessive passion for the job, where they can’t think of anything else but the job and everything else is sacrificed as a result. Whereas harmonious passion means that their job fits into other areas of their life,” Professor Parker told The Educator.

“So, the question then is, how can we help principals to have a harmonious passion rather than an obsessive passion?”

He said the pressures of the job can lead to principals drifting from harmonious to obsessive.

“While it’s hard to say how many have experienced this drift and are in the latter camp, it would be 50%, if we were dichotomising,” he said.

Professor Parker said principals in rural communities without access to resources are at particular risk of developing an obsessive passion for the job.

“For this reason, the need to continue to resource the sector and ensure they get that solid support is critical,” he said.