Staff wellbeing: Creating a better balance...

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
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The Education Support Partnership’s latest health survey shows continuing problems with excessive workloads. Julian Stanley calls for government action and offers teachers some practical advice

Responding to our 2017 YouGov health survey, the most comprehensive and robust we have carried out to date, eight out of 10 secondary school teachers and leaders (81 per cent) told us that they have an inability to switch off outside of work, burdened as so many of you are with current excessive workloads.

Nearly half (45 per cent) also told us that they felt they do not achieve the right balance between their work and home lives.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this same percentage of respondents said that the psychological, physical and behavioural symptoms they had suffered – including difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, recurring headaches, stress and anxiety – were a clear consequence of their work and of this lack of balance.

Of course, some outside the sector will say that this is simply a reflection of the modern workplace, that these issues are hardly restricted to education.

But when the results were compared to the public sector overall, it showed clearly that education professionals are far less likely to feel that they achieve a balance.

A brake on endless change, funding cuts, a curb to never-ending curriculum and examination changes will of course take time but in the meantime we are urging the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted to work with the sector to address and reduce workload now, in the short-term.

What schools can do is focus on the development of a supportive culture – supporting staff to find concrete measures that will genuinely improve work/life balance.

But in a profession where teachers and leaders work around the school day, work early, late and at weekends, and deal with constant change, can there really be an alternative to working long hours?

Our report does suggest that there can be. More experienced teachers and leaders were less likely to report symptoms affecting their mental health and wellbeing. By assessing your own current work/life balance, it may seem simplistic but you can begin to set some goals to change it.

However small the steps may be, there is potential to dramatically improve the balance you currently have. Ultimately this could improve your mental and physical health and wellbeing and, in turn, your ability to deliver efficiently at work.

Here are our some of our top tips towards a better work/life balance during this, the longest term of the academic year:

  • Keep a diary for a week or two about how you work. Ask yourself what patterns you might be able to change and set yourself some specific goals (such as the following points).
  • Setting a time to finish each day during term and a reason to do this – perhaps to do some exercise, meet friends or spend time with your family.
  • Set aside free time during weekends and on some week nights.
  • Sign up to a regular activity such as a book club or exercise class – something that you enjoy – and ensure you make the time for it each week and each month.
  • Set personal goals such as spending more time with friends or learning a new hobby.
  • Start slowly. You cannot expect to change your habits and practices overnight. Introduce small changes such as a regular 15-minute relaxation break into your schedule and once you achieve this, set a higher target.
  • Take steps to better separate home and work. Can you stay a little longer at work and not take it home? If working at home, keep the paperwork in just one area, and never in the bedroom.
  • Try to leave the anxiety and worry of the day behind you at school. Get some fresh air, have a bath or do some exercise. Try as far as you can to physically separate your home from your work life. Have different email and social media accounts and a different room to leave your books.
  • During holidays try not to accommodate everybody else’s needs. Rest and make sure you prioritise things that you’d like to do.
  • Be prepared. Priorities can change over the course of a year, not to mention during the length of a career. What might you put in place now to ensure your work and your life will remain balanced in the future?

Our survey is hard evidence of the need to prioritise teacher wellbeing. An urgent sea-change is needed and we will be taking our report to decision-makers and influencers to start a debate about what can be done now and in the longer term in secondary schools.

For now, making a number of small changes yourself can make a big difference to your work/life balance.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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