MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study: Public Education Study

MetLife Employee Benefit Trends

The Battle against Burnout: What Public School Systems can do to Keep the Best and Brightest

Half of public education teachers say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession in recent years.1 Teachers cite inadequate pay and benefits as the top reason, followed closely by burnout.1

download study
Continue reading

Behind the numbers

Addressing employee stress


Behind the Numbers

The factors and feelings driving public education’s retention problem

Nearly half of K-12 public school systems (48%) report employee burnout as a current challenge, according to MetLife’s study. Along with lower employee engagement, burnout can lead to reduced retention rates. With half of teachers admitting they have seriously considered leaving the profession, newer teachers are taking action. According to research by the University of Pennsylvania, 44 percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years.3 For those teachers, salary plays a role, but so does stress. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that nine in ten elementary school teachers report high levels of stress.4

Current teacher mindset


Half of teachers admit they have seriously considered leaving the profession.1


percentage of new teachers leave teaching within five years.3

Teacher recruiting challenges are heightened by lower retention rates. As the baby boom generation continues to retire in the years ahead, attracting and retaining talented teachers becomes paramount.

A purposeful focus: The role of workplace culture in public education

Despite unique retention challenges, K-12 public school systems also have distinct advantages when it comes to what their employees want from work. However, there’s still room for improvement to fully optimize these advantages as a retention tool.

Purpose is at the center of what K-12 employees seek from their work — and they adapt a healthy mix of pragmatism and idealism about how it’s achieved. Eighty-seven percent say regularly accomplishing daily work tasks contributes to their sense of purpose. An equal number — 87 percent — say work that contributes to the greater good of society is essential. This is followed closely by 82 percent of public school employees who cite working on something they’re passionate about and that’s relevant to the greater community as important elements for finding purpose through work. Work that contributes meaning to life rounds out the top five contributing factors for employees’ sense of purpose.

What contributes to a sense of purpose at work?

K-12 Public School System Employees
87 % Regularly accomplishing daily work tasks
87 % Working on something you’re passionate about
82 % Contributing to greater good of society
82 % Doing work that contributes meaning to life
81 % Doing work that’s relevant to greater community

Overwhelmingly, public school system employees (88%) cite the district’s mission, purpose, and values as a key reason for accepting a new job or deciding to stay in a current role. Also important to employees when making career decisions is the ability to do meaningful work (95 percent) and the workplace culture (93 percent).

Many K-12 public school systems agree on the importance of workplace culture, with 76 percent saying it’s an important factor in attracting and retaining employees. Dialing up efforts to enhance workplace culture by directly tying it to the employees’ desire for purpose is a potentially effective strategy for school systems looking to impact recruiting and retention objectives, as well as overall employee satisfaction. Currently, a sizeable number of public school systems — 1 in 4 — report creating a more purpose-driven culture as a challenge for their organizations.

The relatively high recognition for the central role workplace culture can play will be key as public school systems work to address high turnover rates.

Addressing employee stress

K-12 public education employees see their work as a central element in how they define themselves, set their goals, and measure their fulfillment. As a result, they look to their employers to help facilitate a successful blending of work and life with support and resources that help them thrive.

For public school systems, reducing burnout requires a multi-pronged approach aimed at different root causes, including long hours, limited resources, and teacher-parent-student dynamics. Across ages and life stages, K-12 public education employees rank personal financial concerns as their top source of stress. As public school systems implement strategies to help employees address stressors and fight burnout, employee benefits can play a critical role in reducing financial stress while also making a positive contribution to a workplace culture that’s centered on employee well-being. Seven in 10 K-12 public school systems see benefits as an important factor in building and sustaining their workplace culture.

K-12 public education employees mindset


of K-12 public education employees believe employers have a responsibility for their health and well-being.


say benefits available through their employer help reduce their financial stress.

Benefits can help K-12 employees address their stressors, particularly around personal finances, retirement, and their family’s health. In addition, the benefits offered help employees feel appreciated and valued. By implementing holistic benefits strategies that include a wide array of options for employees to choose from, public school systems are able to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce that includes teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and crossing guards.

Historically, public school systems have offered a range of traditional benefits options, including medical, dental, and retirement choices. Supplemental or voluntary benefits, such as accident insurance, critical illness insurance, or legal services plans, can be highly valued options that school systems can add to their offering without increasing their budgets. These same benefits are designed to provide financial relief for participating employees as a valued supplement to other benefits, such as health insurance.

Today, fewer than half of K-12 school system employees (40%) say their employers offer a comprehensive benefits program as a way to make them feel valued and appreciated. Having access to a wider array of non-traditional, non-medical benefits appeals to employees, with 60 percent saying they would be interested even if they have to cover some of the costs themselves. At the same time, emerging benefits appeal to K-12 employees, especially millennials and Gen Z-ers. Seventy percent are interested in wellness programs that reward healthy behavior and 60 percent are interested in paid sabbatical programs after completing a certain length of time with an employer.

However, it’s not just about more benefits. To optimize the impact on their top benefits objectives of attracting and retaining talent, public school systems need to undertake a strategic expansion of benefits combined with a holistic approach to communicating how the benefits work together.

Holistic Benefits: An Example

Medical insurance comes with out-of-pocket costs. Offering supplemental benefits and educating employees about how the different coverages work together increases understanding and helps to reduce financial stress.

Short and Long-Term Disability insurance

Provide employees with a benefit to help replace their paychecks if they’re unable to work due to a serious illness or injury.

Accident, Critical Illness, and Hospital Indemnity

Benefits deliver lump-sum payments for a variety of events that are designed to help employees manage unexpected costs. These are paid no matter what’s covered by other benefits.


As burnout continues to drive turnover, K-12 public education employees are looking to their employers for support. When implementing strategies to combat burnout and stress, public school systems that prioritize workplace culture and look beyond one-size-fits-all benefits to provide choices for a diverse employee population will be well-positioned to address their employee recruitment, satisfaction, and retention goals. At the same time, holistic benefits strategies are a visible element that reinforce an organization’s purpose-driven culture and provide tangible stress-reducing protection for employees.

Visit to explore more findings and tools from this year’s Study.

And, contact your MetLife representative to discuss how to turn the insights into action.

Download these insights about the evolving work-life world.

Download Study

1 Frustration in Schools, 51st Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 2019.

2 U.S. schools struggle to hire and retain teachers, Economic Policy Institute, 2019.

3 Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force, University of Pennsylvania, 2018.

4 How Many Teachers Are Highly Stressed? Maybe More Than People Think, NEA Today, 2018.

Unless noted otherwise, all findings are from the 17th Annual MetLife U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study research, 2019.