Does your wellbeing strategy add to your stress?

By Karen Amos

Good news everyone – there’s a brand new Education Staff Wellbeing Charter to make everyone’s life that bit better.  That’s great news… isn’t it..?

Thinking back to my time in leadership roles in the public sector, the NHS in particular, I can remember that sinking feeling when yet another ‘initiative’ landed on my desk.  Not that they were always bad (although to be fair, some were shockers), but I recall that feeling of overwhelm, wondering where and how I could find the resources and time to actually implement this, without dropping another plate.

I’m not going to tell anyone working in education that they have a tough job.  That’s like telling a sheep it’s woolly.  There’s a degree of acceptance of an education professional’s lot in working life – and by this I’m meaning everyone working in education, not just teachers.  The fact is that the statistics make grim reading.

I don’t believe there’s anything to gain in playing misery ‘top trumps’ with other jobs and sectors.  This doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  Many sectors have huge issues with stress and burnout, each with its own particular issues and education is no exception.  The fact is however, that education does rank in the top 4 most stressful occupations in the UK. ¹

So here are some numbers:

  • 84% of education professionals described themselves as being ‘stressed’ in Oct 2020 (89% of senior leaders)2
  • Unsurprisingly, this was up from an already high 64% in June 20202
  • 63% of Education staff (76% of senior leaders) considered leaving the profession due to workload2
  • 52% considered leaving due to personal mental health and wellbeing2

I believe this is the tip of the iceberg and that the issue is significantly under-reported for many reasons.  If you have time, do check out the links below for more information.  (Short pause for you to laugh derisively at the word ‘time’…)

From a leadership view, I see there are two issues with wellbeing in the workplace. 

Firstly, there’s an ethical issue.  No-one should come to work and be made ill or unhappy.  That’s my mantra.  I have personal (negative) experience in this area.  We can all have a rubbish day from time to time, but if we’re accepting this as the norm, then something’s broken.

Secondly, there’s the financial issue – and let’s face it, this is often the deal-breaker.  Few would argue against the ethics of having a healthier workplace and workforce.  The difficulty lies in implementing this – either though lack of time and resources, or simply the financial pressures of balancing already stretched budgets.

NB: Whilst there’s also a legal/compliance issue with wellbeing, I’d suggest this comes from a combination of ethical and financial (i.e. costs to the state) issues.

So, if the finances are the clincher, here are a few more stats:

  • 9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20 1
  • 55% of all working days lost were due to work-related ill health1
  • Poor mental health amongst employees costs £42–45 bn in the UK each year – This includes the costs of absence/presenteeism and turnover3
  • The cost of poor mental health to the UK education sector (and public purse) is estimated to be £1.1 – 1.5 bn per year3
  • This equates to £1203 – £1585 per education employee per year3

So what to do?

Whilst there’s lots everyone can do to improve wellbeing in education, it’s obvious there is no quick fix and I’ll be writing more extensively on this in future articles.  In the meantime however, we should take note of the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter4 , where it states that there are no expectations that ‘managers [will] provide professional wellbeing support for which they have no professional training.’  In short – you can’t be all things to all people.

Instead, I suggest we should take a holistic view, rather than the traditional sticking-plaster approach.  This will take time and starts with building a wellbeing culture.  To do that we need to throw away any badges of honour that go with working ridiculous, impossible hours and begin meaningful conversations with those around us.  This means we have to be prepared to hear uncomfortable truths.  Additionally, it’s now time to check our own personal story – from one that talks about ‘overworked education professionals’, to one that says ‘This is not acceptable’ and ‘I deserve more’.

  1. HSE – Work related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain – 2020
  2. Education Support – Teacher Wellbeing Index – 2020
  3. Deliotte – Mental Health and Employers – Refreshing the case for investment – Jan 2020
  4. The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter

If you would like to find out more about BrightBird’s online Positive & Productive Wellbeing Programme, click HERE.

No-nonsense support for you and your team to manage stress, build resilience and time management skills and develop a positive mindset.  Delivered at a time and pace to suit you.

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email [email protected].

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports education leaders and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and wellbeing.