Staff wellbeing: More than a ‘nice to have’

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: MA Education

We all recognise the importance of wellbeing for both staff and pupils. Julian Stanley discusses the six danger areas for staff wellbeing and suggests engaging with your staff to ensure good wellbeing in your school

The recognition of the importance of individual wellbeing support both inside and outside of the workplace has been growing substantially in recent times. But for an under-pressure headteacher, working to get the best out of your teams, how do you make it more than an aspiration or a “nice to have” for your teachers, yourself and your leadership team?

Evidence shows that being in good quality work is good for your physical and mental health, resulting in better self-esteem and quality of life.

However, Dame Alison Peacock, the founding chief executive of the new Chartered College of Teaching, has recently said that she thinks the profession’s mental wellbeing has hit rock bottom: “We have gone too far into the pit,” she said. “We need to start climbing out now.”

Indeed, at a time when retention is such a major challenge, our recently published YouGov TeacherTrack survey, part of our on-going #NotQuittingTeaching campaign, found that more than half of senior leaders (54 per cent) and 44 per cent of teachers said support for personal wellbeing in the workplace would positively influence them to stay in the sector. Only a very small minority (just seven per cent) said that “nothing” would influence them to stay.

Despite a challenging climate there may be far more understanding and discussion at every level of the profession of the intrinsic value of wellbeing in all our lives – of how it can shape a school for the better, for staff and for pupils. Surely every school wants to send a message that it can support any struggling and prospective employees as well as its pupils.

Building resilience is fundamental to success. Greater staff retention and less sick leave also means lower supply teacher costs. Teachers’ (and school leaders’) happiness makes for a positive knock-on effect for students.

At the Education Support Partnership, we know it has never been more urgent to focus on and ensure the wellbeing of school teams. But where should you start? What should heads look at? What has an impact on wellbeing?

Past research has identified six aspects of work which, if managed poorly, could create stress in the workplace:

  • Demands: such as workload and the work environment.
  • Control: a person’s own influence over how their job is carried out.
  • Support: from colleagues, line manager and organisation.
  • Relationships: to reduce conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role: understanding of the job content and expectations.
  • Change: how it is managed in the organisation.

It is good to check in on and measure staff wellbeing on a regular basis, even if you are already addressing issues and have some support in place. No head can be complacent about the issue and a workplace survey can be a very good way to start if you haven’t done it before (either paid-for or your own).

Staff need a way to be able to answer questions anonymously without the fear of reprisals. You may also want to instil a suggestion box in the staffroom to allow for feedback throughout the year.
Be sure to explain the purpose of a survey to your staff and seek their support for the process. Be clear that you are happy to make necessary changes, depending on what the results may show. Consider questions such as:

  • Do you feel stressed at work?
  • Do you feel adequately supported?
  • Do you feel equipped to manage your workload?
  • Where and who do you turn to if there is something wrong?
  • Would you like to have the opportunity to have counselling?
  • What do you enjoy about your job?
  • What don’t you enjoy about your job?

The results should be shared with staff and the governors. Anonymity must be maintained but staff should be consulted on the findings and given the chance to suggest improvements to the school culture and the environment.

Concrete action to reduce stress, to support employees and provide on-going opportunities for reflection and further suggestions is essential.

Many heads have told us that starting such a process and making it part of the fabric of what they do has been the best investment they have made for their school and for themselves and the sake of their own wellbeing.

A teacher and team with high job satisfaction, positive morale and good health should be more likely to teach lessons which are creative, challenging and effective, resulting in students performing better.

Addressing the issue is a lot easier than you think it may be, can quickly deliver results and, in the longer term, makes for a healthier, stronger school. 

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 and for details of other support services, including the Headspace and Yourspace leadership support programmes, visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk

Further information

For more about the staff engagement and wellbeing work of the Education Support Partnership, visit http://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/staff-engagement-wellbeing


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