Staff wellbeing: Are you looking out for your colleagues?

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With more and more teachers experiencing symptoms related to depression and anxiety amid the pressure of the pandemic, Sophie Howells looks at how we can approach conversations with colleagues who may be struggling

Our Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020 found that more teachers than ever are experiencing symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety.

It also found that 17 per cent of education professionals would not talk to anyone at work about any mental health issues, with almost half (46 per cent) saying that this was because they felt it would negatively affect colleagues’ perception of them.

So as lockdown continues, it is important we look out for each other and normalise discussion about mental health by having open conversations with each other. If you can see that a colleague might be struggling, you don’t need to have all the answers – just asking questions and showing empathy can be incredibly helpful for someone who needs support but isn’t able to ask for it.

Below we have set out some quick tips for having a conversation with a colleague about their wellbeing.

Show you care

Showing someone that you care by asking questions and listening in a non-judgemental way can make a big difference to someone experiencing difficult feelings. Small acts of kindness can be the difference between a colleague having a good day or feeling completely overwhelmed. If you are able to, ask a colleague how they are – and really mean it.

Ask open questions

Open questions begin with phrases like:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • Tell me more about…?

They help to give people the space to think out loud and express themselves openly. Open questions can help us to think differently, find different approaches to problems or think about the root causes of our difficult feelings.

Some other examples of open questions include:

  • What are you finding most challenging right now?
  • What changes at work would help you feel more supported?
  • How motivated are you able to feel at the moment?
  • What’s giving you happiness right now?

Active listening

Active listening takes place when the listener is fully present, and not only hears the words but also understands the speaker’s entire message. It can help the speaker to feel understood and truly heard. Some techniques you might use include:

  • Summarise or paraphrase what the speaker is telling you by recapping. You can use a phrase like: “You’re feeling under pressure and wondering what you can do to relieve it.”
  • Show empathy by reflecting back the speaker’s emotions, e.g: “It sounds like you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed.”
  • Show that you are engaged and attentive through open body language and good eye contact.
  • Give the speaker space to talk at their own pace. Don’t make assumptions or rush to speak before they are ready.

With time and practice, you can become more confident using these skills. Remember, that you are human and may not get everything right, but your colleagues will appreciate your effort. We all have a role to play in ending the stigma surrounding mental health, and creating work cultures where people feel valued, cared for and supported.

Further support

This is part of Education Support’s online Coronavirus Support resource that has been created with clinical experts for education professionals (see further information). And do not forget that our free, confidential helpline is here 24/7 for anyone struggling. Call 08000 562561.

  • Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles for SecEd via

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