News & Views
Staff wellbeing: More than coffee and cakes
I recently read some inevitable and unpalatable news in a London Metro article entitled '"I dread every day": Overworked and under pressure, our teachers are in the midst of a mental health crisis'. It purports that teachers across the UK have reported being caught in the grip of a mental health crisis. The Teacher Wellbeing Index, a survey commissioned by the Education Support charity, indicates that 77% of teachers experience poor mental health with excessive workload and a lack of work–life balance being the key drivers.
So what is to be done?
Essentially, employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, so throwing their hands up in despair is not an option! For those schools that have robust mental health and wellbeing policies and practices in place, the benefits are plentiful. Not only do they offer an important competitive edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff, but teachers who feel valued and supported also tend to display far greater enjoyment, motivation and productivity. As a result, there is a healthier workforce and environment all round.
Let staff know that their wellbeing and mental health matters
Opening up talks with staff at all levels about their wellbeing and mental health should be actively encouraged.
There is a clear need for senior management to lead by example. It is therefore crucial that managers are trained to identify when people are struggling and know how to hold and normalise conversations about mental health and wellbeing. This demonstrates that the school has a genuine interest in staff wellbeing. Encouraging debate and accountability goes a long way to help improve wellbeing and working relationships. In turn, this helps reduce mental health stigma and improves awareness. From personal experience, the setting up of a ‘Wellbeing and workload’ working group incorporating staff from across the school, teaching and non-teaching staff is highly effective in opening channels of communication.
Five ways to develop a wellbeing-focused culture
1. Have a declaration of support and commitment
A useful starting point could be by implementing the Education and staff wellbeing charter. This charter, created by the Department of Education (together with other members of the education sector), can be used as:
a declaration of support for, and set of commitments to, the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education
The charter is for education staff in England including temporary and support staff. Schools can use this charter to design their wellbeing strategies and principles, perhaps to determine the parameters for the aforementioned ‘Wellbeing and workload’ working party. Either way, it’s a tangible tool that sets out how the school intends to promote and enhance staff wellbeing and mental health.
2. Encourage a sense of collective ownership
The Wellbeing Award for Schools (WAS) is an 18-month programme that can start to unite schools and their stakeholders on the journey to becoming a place of emotional wellbeing and support. This evidence-based framework commences with an audit and focuses on the long-term culture of schools. The entire school community is involved in formulating the wellbeing vision and strategy – areas such as staff wellbeing, positive culture, training for staff and support networks all form a part of this. From first-hand experience, this is an excellent and worthwhile undertaking and without a genuine and comprehensive commitment to wellbeing, the award will not be attained!
3. Demonstrate a genuine appreciation of staff!
As challenging as this might be in an environment where ‘time’ is so precious, if staff feel listened to they will feel valued and appreciated – fact.
Making staff mental health and wellbeing a standard part of regular staff departmental meetings and an agenda item at leadership and governor gatherings is crucial.
Termly or annual in-house staff surveys are another effective and inexpensive way to keep track of any ongoing issues.
By responding to any topics raised, a school promotes a culture of openness as well as indicating that each voice is valued and that views aired are taken seriously. This fosters a sense of appreciation as well as the knowledge that staff feel supported at times when things may be more challenging for them.
4. Offer staff training
Consider setting up a designated school ‘wellbeing team’ consisting of trained staff mental health champions/leads who can offer support to both colleagues and pupils alike. Experience suggests that schools are always likely to have staff members keen to embrace and assist with such an exercise.
Make mental health and wellbeing updates part of your school’s INSET training days.
5. Provide staff with wellbeing resources and tools
Education Support provides a wealth of information, tools and resources on school staff mental health and wellbeing h This includes details of its employee assistance programme (which is far more affordable for all employees in a school than schools realise) and enables staff to access emotional and practical confidential support such as:
For many, the reassurance that there is a ‘button to press’ in times of need is huge.
Education Support’s helpline is free and available to all serving and retired teachers in Wales, England and Scotland 24/7, 365 days a year 08000 562 561.
Space and time
Ideally, schools should be creating a staff wellbeing area/room to allow teachers who need a little privacy to take a moment out during break and lunch times or other non-teaching periods. Add to this, the organisation of staff events in and outside of school such as lunchtime wellbeing walks, bowling evenings, pub dinners, staff sports events and music get-togethers and once again, the school is demonstrating wellbeing is genuinely at its heart.
In conclusion, take a look at the Anna Freud Centre, a ‘go-to’ for wisdom with regards to mental health for some years now, which summarises the top 10 ways to support school staff wellbeing. How does your school fare?
Discover more ways to support and improve your staff's physical, emotional and mental health with our Staff Wellbeing Award.
About the author
Mike Crossley recently retired as Headmaster of Langley Preparatory School. He is an experienced MHFA Youth instructor and his last school was the proud recipient of the acclaimed Optimus Wellbeing Award for Schools. With over 25 years of experience as a senior manager in three leading schools and 14 years as a head, Mike offers a wealth of knowledge in the world of education.
Mike is also a much-practised school inspector, management trainer and qualified as a head through the government’s NPQH scheme through the NCSL. He is an ILM Level 7 executive coach and mentor and recently qualified as a Senior Mental Health Lead.