Staff wellbeing is not only important due to its impact on health and staff absences, it also plays an important part in providing pupils with quality education, as it affects employee performance and how they carry out their duties. For this reason, school leaders and governing boards must ensure that the environment in which employees work supports their wellbeing. By making changes to the work environment, schools are able to develop a positive workplace culture which supports and nurtures the progression and wellbeing of its staff members.
This guidance outlines common needs of staff members, how they can be supported and the different steps schools should take to ensure that a positive environment is maintained amongst staff, thus helping to ensure staff wellbeing is maintained.
The work environment
Issues, such as work-related stress, are more likely to occur when the school environment is negative and staff feel unsupported. For example, where staff are not provided with regular opportunities for professional development, or where there is little communication or collaboration between staff members, employees may feel isolated and unmotivated or experience additional pressure and stress at work.
Creating a positive workplace culture enables schools to prevent work-related issues before they arise and maintain a healthy level of staff wellbeing. In order to create a culture which effectively supports staff wellbeing, the following needs of staff members should be taken into account:
- Physical – work pressure can act as a physical strain on employees and, where not appropriately addressed, can lead to health problems.
- Professional – where a staff member doesn’t feel supported in undertaking their work duties, their confidence and ability in carrying out their duties can be negatively affected.
- Emotional – the state of staff members’ mental health can be reflected in their ability to effectively undertake work; therefore, the stress and pressures which staff experience, both in school and out, should be addressed.
In order to be more supportive of staff members, physical adaptions can be made to the work environment. For example, providing staff members with a private room where problems can be discussed can help to encourage staff members to initially raise concerns. Similarly, providing staff members with a quiet, comfortable and well-lit space can be beneficial to staff wellbeing as it can help staff to relax and de-stress whilst at work.
A whole-school approach
Staff wellbeing should be addressed as a whole-school issue, ensuring that the needs of all employees, whether they are teaching or support staff, are taken into consideration.
For instance, streamlining the school’s homework process or the format in which feedback is provided can reduce the quantity of work and admin-like tasks that staff members must carry out. Similarly, by replacing burdensome weekly and termly written reports with direct conversations with parents, staff members are able to save valuable time, demonstrating how simplifying school’s processes can contribute to a positive workplace culture.
The implementation of whole-school policies can help to reduce the pressure put on staff members by clarifying individual responsibilities and what action needs to be taken. For example, a behavioural policy could be utilised to reassure teachers of what they are responsible for (such as setting detentions) and not responsible for (such as following up detentions) – providing staff members with peace of mind when carrying out their duties.
Further to this, school policies and procedures should reflect a school-wide mental health strategy, taking into account the impact practices and processes have on employees’ mental wellbeing. For instance, policies regarding performance management should recognise that an employee’s performance could be affected by a mental health problem; therefore, the process should direct them to appropriate support and explore reasonable adjustments that could be made.
The pressure placed on schools to perform can often cause staff members to feel overwhelmed by their work, both professionally and emotionally.
Feeling overwhelmed can be demotivating for staff; therefore, it is important that employees know support is available to them. Through the implementation of regular one-to-ones between teachers and leaders, issues can be identified and addressed early on. This type of support enables staff to develop their knowledge and skills, whilst increasing employee engagement.
Staff members are also likely to feel unmotivated and negative towards their job if they do not feel like they are able to progress their professional standing – it is important for staff to feel that their work is meaningful. For this reason, school leaders should ensure that staff members are made aware of all CPD opportunities and understand how these can be accessed. This will help staff members to not only develop their expertise, but feel valued too, as the school is investing in them – this can boost motivation, confidence and, ultimately, staff wellbeing.
As outlined above, the pressures associated with working in a school can often be harmful to staff wellbeing, in particular, their emotional state. Too often mental wellbeing is treated like the elephant in the room and not discussed openly, fuelling the negative stigma surrounding mental health. This can cause staff members to feel like they cannot discuss any emotional strain they are experiencing, whether this is personal or professional. As a result, staff members’ emotional needs may not be effectively supported and problems could spiral out of control, thus having a negative impact on staff wellbeing.
Leaders should maintain an open dialogue with staff members, talking openly about problems and the support which can be accessed, creating an environment where staff members feel that their problems can be discussed, and addressed, without fear of judgement or discrimination. School leaders can, within reason, implement an ‘open-door’ policy, in which they express a sympathetic and understanding manner towards staff members, so that staff are more forthcoming with problems, enabling them to be addressed before they develop further.
To further support staff members’ emotional wellbeing, awareness of mental health should be promoted, for example by embedding it into induction training. By doing this, schools are able to reassure staff that support can be accessed and that they are not facing the problem alone, therefore creating a more positive workplace culture.
Staff engagement and wellbeing are interdependent; therefore, communication plays a key role in effectively supporting staff wellbeing. The key to effective communication is to ensure that staff are not overloaded with information, are not excluded from decisions and have the ability to express their views.
When staff members feel involved in school decisions, they have an increased understanding and motivation for their role. For this reason, school leaders should be as forthcoming as possible with regards to the school’s strategic vision and direction, asking staff members to contribute where appropriate, enabling employees to better understand how their role fits into the school's plans for the future.
For example, when managing organisational changes, staff members should be informed of what is happening and why, and provided with the opportunity to discuss this information or raise any concerns. This increases staff members' feelings of involvement and ownership in the changes being made, resulting in morale and productivity less likely being negatively affected.
In order to further develop a positive workplace culture and boost staff wellbeing, some schools have set up a staff wellbeing team who focus on creating an open and encouraging environment. This team would identify problem areas, such as increasing workloads for teachers, and develop school policies and procedures to address these issues, such as a streamlined marking system to reduce teacher workload. Where a wellbeing team is not viable for the school, consideration could be given to appointing a member of the governing board as a wellbeing governor. Like the wellbeing team, this individual would focus on changing workplace practices in order to support staff more effectively.
Schools can utilise our Staff Wellbeing Resource Pack to help their staff members maintain a good work-life balance and address incidents of work-related stress. This pack includes guidance regarding the importance of wellbeing, the role of the governing board and legal implications to take into account, as well as provides an example policy focussed on improving wellbeing.
Daniella Lang (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: 9 February 2018]
Mind (2013) ‘How to promote wellbeing and tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems’
TES (2016) ‘Four ways that senior leaders can help to reduce teacher stress’, <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/four-ways-senior-leaders-can-help-reduce-teacher-stress> [Accessed: 25 January 2018]
TES (2017) ‘Teacher’s blog: How my school take the stress off teachers’, <https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2017/sep/22/how-my-school-takes-the-stress-off-teachers> [Accessed: 25 January 2018]