Figures obtained from LAs by the Liberal Democrats (2017) revealed that 1 in 83 teachers took leave for a month or more in the 2016/2017 academic year due to stress or mental health issues. Overall, teachers have taken 1.3 million days off work in the last four years because of stress or mental health problems.
Staff wellbeing is a significant challenge for school leaders and governors, and is an issue that they should look to address effectively as improving wellbeing can help to ensure staff reach their full potential and perform to the best of their ability.
This guidance explores a number of tips that school leaders can put into practice to support the wellbeing of their staff.
- Measure staff wellbeing
Leaders should assess what concerns staff have in relation to their wellbeing at work by actually asking the staff; if leaders assume what the key issues are, they may miss something vital.
One way to measure staff wellbeing is through distributing a survey to all staff members and analysing the findings. The survey could include questions such as:
- Do you feel stressed at work?
- Do you feel equipped to manage your workload?
- Are you aware of how to access support?
Staff could be asked to rate how happy they are in relation to each question on a scale of 1-5, where appropriate, as this helps to make the results quantifiable and easier to analyse.
The results from the survey can give a real insight into the needs of staff and can inform any changes that need to be made, as well as any development or training requirements. Staff should also be consulted about the results and be given the chance to suggest improvements; however, the anonymity of the results must be maintained at all times.
It is important that the purpose of the survey is explained to staff and that leaders clearly communicate that necessary changes will be made based on the findings of the survey as soon as is practicable.
It is advised that staff wellbeing should be formally measured on an annual basis (i.e. through a wellbeing survey); however, schools can also use methods to measure wellbeing throughout the year. For example, there could be a box in the staff room where staff can voice concerns or provide feedback throughout the year.
- Cultivate a supportive workplace culture
Staff may feel uneasy to talk about any wellbeing issues they may be experiencing and may be reluctant to ask for help. To help overcome this, schools leaders should develop a culture where staff feel comfortable to say they are struggling with something and ensure staff know they will not be judged or criticised for any concerns they raise about their wellbeing.
Leaders should consider adopting an ‘open-door’ policy, where appropriate, which can further encourage staff to come forward with issues, allowing them to be appropriately addressed. A mentoring or buddy system could also be implemented to further embed a supportive culture – this can be especially useful for new members of staff.
As well as ensuring staff feel emotionally supported, leaders also need to make sure staff feel supported in their roles. If this is flagged as an issue, consider the following:
- Could the SLT praise good work and effort from staff in a more effective way?
- Could staff be offered more administrative or technical support?
- Do staff undergo robust inductions?
- Could more flexible working arrangements be implemented?
- Are staff aware of the health and welfare support available to them?
- Adapt the working environment
The physical environment staff spend their time in can have an impact on their emotional wellbeing. For example, providing members of staff with a staff room they can relax in during break and lunch times, and making sure they are encouraged to utilise this space, can help to ensure that staff take time away from work during the school day.
Also consider having private rooms where staff members can discuss problems – this could encourage staff members to initially raise any wellbeing concerns.
There are other easy-to-implement strategies that may also have a positive effect on wellbeing – such as adding a wellbeing board to the staff room and putting up motivational posters around staff areas. Although they may not seem like they would have an impact, these small things could make a difference as they can boost positivity and promote awareness of wellbeing issues.
- Look at workload
An unmanageable workload is consistently reported as having a negative impact on staff wellbeing; therefore, it is vital that school leaders explore how they can address this issue within their own context.
The DfE are working to develop strategies to help schools manage their workload, but there are some methods leaders can use at school-level to assist in managing workload. An important aspect of this is making staff members’ roles and responsibilities clear to them, ensuring that integral parts of their role aren’t seen as unexpected requests for work.
It is also important that leaders consistently show their commitment to addressing workload issues; this could be done by considering, and even consulting staff about, the impact workload may have on a new initiative or organisational change within school.
School leaders can also consider the following:
- Limit after-school meetings and ensure that only relevant staff are required to be at meetings
- Make sure staff take break and lunch times
- Make sure that leaving on time at the end of the school day is not seen as a negative thing – if it is, this could make staff feel like they have to stay late to be rewarded
- Do not set expectations for immediate email responses and consider restricting the hours when emails can be sent, e.g. not at weekends
Communication plays a prominent role in effectively supporting staff wellbeing. School leaders should manage communication so that it is clear but does not overload staff. This involves making sure staff are not excluded from decisions and have the ability to express their views. Staff do not need to be informed about every decision being made at the school; however, where it affects the school’s strategic vision and direction, staff may feel more motivated if they are involved in that decision-making process.
Additionally, make sure staff feel appreciated for the work they put into the school. Giving thanks may seem like a small task; however, it can go a long way in supporting staff wellbeing and boosting self-esteem.
- Make sure wellbeing is always on the agenda
School leaders face a multitude of pressures and challenges which can sometimes result in staff wellbeing falling down the priority list; however, it is vital that wellbeing is a consistent part of leadership discussions and wider team meetings.
To ensure staff wellbeing remains a high priority, some schools have set up staff wellbeing teams made up of volunteers from the workforce. Wellbeing teams can identify problem areas and develop policies and procedures to address these issues. A wellbeing team may not be viable for some schools; therefore, all schools should ensure that staff wellbeing is a regular agenda item at staff meetings, ensuring that all staff members have the opportunity to voice any concerns or improvement suggestions.
- Do not forget about yourself
Alongside supporting staff, it is also important that school leaders look after their own wellbeing – look at how you are looking after your own wellbeing and make sure you know where to go for support, both professional and emotional.
The tips above are not the only methods school leaders can use to support staff wellbeing. They should make sure to take account of the school’s context and any identified staff wellbeing issues, ensuring these are targeted through any initiatives put in place.
To further support staff wellbeing, school leaders can utilise our Work-Related Stress and Mental Wellbeing Meet and Brief Pack. The pack brings school leaders up-to-speed with understanding measures that can be put in place to help prevent work-related stress and support staff wellbeing.
Additionally, our Changing Workplace Culture to Support Staff Wellbeing guidance explores the different steps school should take to ensure that a positive environment is maintained amongst staff to help ensure staff wellbeing is maintained.
Education Support Partnership (2016) ‘Looking after teacher wellbeing’
Schools Week (2018) ‘Tips for improving staff wellbeing in schools’, <https://schoolsweek.co.uk/tips-for-improving-staff-wellbeing-in-schools/> [Accessed: 20 February 2018]
Tes (2017) ‘Six ways your school should be showing it takes staff wellbeing seriously’, <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/six-ways-your-school-should-be-showing-it-takes-staff-wellbeing> [Accessed: 20 February 2018]
Tes (2018) ‘Thousands of teachers are on long-term stress leave, new figures reveal’, <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/thousands-teachers-are-long-term-stress-leave-new-figures-reveal> [Accessed: 20 February 2018]
The Guardian (2018) ‘Every school needs a staff wellbeing team – here’s how to start one’, <https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2018/feb/01/staff-wellbeing-team-school-improved> [Accessed: 20 February 2018]