It’s no secret that working in education comes with challenges that can impact on the wellbeing of employees. Wellbeing is about feeling healthy, contented, and satisfied with your quality of life. It can encompass physical health, mental and emotional health and even finances.
We know that poor wellbeing has costs to employers in terms of sickness absence, poor performance and staff turnover. However, promoting wellbeing leads to many benefits including better employee morale and engagement, a healthier, more inclusive culture and lower sickness absence levels. It can also have an impact on productivity and performance, motivation, retention, and pupil wellbeing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased mental health and wellbeing issues, so it has never been more important to ensure that you are doing what you can to promote the wellbeing of your workforce.
We know that resources both in time and money are tight for leadership teams but there are some simple and effective actions you can take to embed a wellbeing culture in your school.
Here are 5 key ways you can ensure that wellbeing is at the very centre of your school.
#1 Be explicit about your commitment to promoting employee wellbeing
Listen to the views of employees: do they have ideas about what you could do as a school to make their work lives easier and happier? Are there practices within the school that could be reviewed to assess their impact on wellbeing? Asking underlines your commitment to improving wellbeing, although employees need to be realistic about what you can and can’t do. However, if you find a few areas to focus on and take action, you show that you are serious about promoting their wellbeing.
#2 Promoting Wellbeing for all staff
We all know the old saying, “prevention is better than cure” and this is particularly important when it comes to wellbeing.
Team meetings and 1:1s can make a huge contribution to this; they provide good, informal opportunities to discuss how employees are managing their workload and how the team can support each other. You can share ideas on how to work smarter and also to collaborate and share tasks. For example, a discussion around how much work people do at home might flag up that someone is not making the best use of their time. You might pick up that someone is starting to struggle or doesn’t seem to be quite themselves, and offer support at an early stage.
There are all sorts of other ways you can promote wellbeing. For example, it’s well known that physical activity is hugely beneficial for the mind as well as the body. Schools are in the enviable position of having easy access to playing fields and sports facilities. Employees may be interested in fun sports tournaments or walking meetings.
#3 Tackle work-related stress
People experience stress when they perceive the demands being made on them to outweigh the resources they have to cope with those demands. It’s well-recognised that work-related stress is prevalent in schools. Apart from workload issues, employees can feel the pressure of accountability and managing challenging behaviour. A bit of pressure is sometimes what we need to give us motivation and focus but if it is too much and goes on for too long, people can become unwell and it can be difficult to recover.
Employees need to know how to recognise when stress is becoming a problem both for themselves and other colleagues, so that they can find strategies for dealing with it early on. Warning signs may be: thinking about school-work all the time, difficulty sleeping, being snappy and irritable, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches and stomach upsets. You might have noticed a colleague who suddenly becomes grumpier than usual and seems to overreact to small inconveniences, such as a jammed photocopier. They might just be having a bad day, but it could be a sign that there is an underlying problem.
It is important for employees to feel they can be open about feelings of stress as this will mean that you will be able to offer support earlier and reduce the likelihood of issues escalating.
Stress is usually best managed using a two-pronged approach. Firstly, by finding ways of reducing the stressors and secondly increasing the capacity of the person to use healthy coping strategies such as relaxation, mindfulness or changing thought patterns.
With this in mind, it is advised that you consider stress management in your health and safety policy and risk assessments. We provide our customers with a tailored health and safety policy that includes stress management, and can provide a work related stress risk assessment template.
#4 Support employees who are experiencing mental health problems
1 in 4 people in the general population are experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, so it is inevitable that you will have employees who fall into this category.
Mental Health Awareness training is now widely available, including e-learning through our health and safety management system Safety Cloud. Such courses give employees information about mental health, breaking down stigmas and misconceptions, how to identify if they may be struggling, and how to get help. There is also a rise in mental health first aid courses, which are an excellent training resource for schools.
It can sometimes feel daunting to initiate a conversation with someone about their mental health, with people often feeling that they require special skills to talk about this area. However, you can approach conversations in the same way that you would daily in your role as a people manager, for example by listening effectively, using your common sense, and being approachable.
We often speak to customers who are unsure about whether to remain in contact with an employee who is off work due to mental health issues but it’s important to keep those channels of communication open. It can be very isolating being off work, especially if the reason is a mental health problem. The best strategy is to ask them what they would find helpful in terms of contact. This can give you confidence in getting the balance right between making someone feel forgotten about or unduly pressurised.
Most people who develop mental health problems recover well with the right support from the people around them. “Recovery” isn’t the same as “cure” and for many people what they will need is to learn strategies to cope with mental distress and stay well.
#5 Identify your wellbeing champions
It will have a huge impact if the senior leaders in the school speak out about the importance of wellbeing and act as supportive role models. Ensure that all employees are aware of what is being done to promote a wellbeing culture throughout the school so that during these busy times they have no doubt that their concerns are being heard, and wherever possible, promptly acted upon by leadership.