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Getting to grips with unwellness

Reading time: 2 minutes. Expert guest post: share feedback on how you are coping with staff unwellness in your school

Georgia Holleran of Teachers’ Mental Health and Wellness suggests establishing the full costs of ‘unwellness’ among staff, and systematically working out the most suitable ways of countering the stressors

Do you know the impact ‘unwellness’ has on your school? Here staff ‘unwellness’ refers both to colleagues who are absent due to illness and to those who are present, but not working to their full capacity for any reason. The pressure on teachers is unrelenting and is starting to have a marked impact on the profession as a whole.

There are no quick-fix solutions but ensuring your school cultivates a strong culture of wellness could be one of the keys to its survival. Any school interested in developing a strong culture of wellness needs to ensure key leadership staff are enthusiastic supporters.

After that, two further steps are vital.

Step one: create a baseline

Create a baseline measurement by calculating the current cost of unwellness. This can be simply done by multiplying the number of staff absent (through illness) in an academic year, by a typical supply teacher cost, say £200 a day. This excludes any absence that was insured against, but allows a cost to be attributed to internal cover. Even an hour of internal cover has an impact for the cover teacher in terms of time and/or stress.

As an example: take a secondary school with 50 teaching staff, multiply that by the average teacher absence rate of 7.5 to get 375. At the notional daily supply rate of £200 the total comes to £75,000. If you want something even quicker: the CIPD suggest the cost of absence is £797 per primary school employee and £1,328 per secondary school employee. In our example that would equate to a total of £66,400, but note that these calculations include all staff and do not in the additional cost of any supply cover. Either way, the numbers can be shocking.

But that’s only part of the story because, interestingly, school staff absence rates tend to be falling. Doesn’t this worry you? Perhaps teachers are preferring not to absent themselves due to fears of falling behind, or repercussions with management? In which case a school would be wise to also take the second step: undertaking a staff wellbeing survey.

Step 2: survey staff feelings

Providing an online, anonymous survey could give staff an opportunity to say exactly how they feel without any fear of comeback, and could unearth any serious issues such as bullying or cases of well-hidden stress or depression.

Survey Monkey is an easy online tool that enables unlimited 10-question surveys to be sent to up to 100 people. Responses can be collected anonymously. Using those 10 questions judiciously can help inform additional more focused consultations, if required.
For example:

  • Stage one might include broad open-ended questions such as ‘What is affecting your wellbeing at the moment?’, to reveal the bigger picture of your staff’s concerns.
  • Then, in a second round consultation, you might list specific wellness options that the school would be prepared to invest in and ask for people to indicate whether they would take part.

You could even run a short survey asking staff what kind of questions need to be asked in the main staff wellbeing survey!

Remember, your staff are the experts on their own wellbeing. Blanket solutions may well help a few, but may irritate or further alienate others. If your school is committed to creating a culture of wellness, everything should be based on the issues that are raised through this consultation.

It is no good providing fresh fruit in the staffroom if a main stress issue is the unreliable school email system, or an inaccessible SLT.

School wellness should be placed firmly in the hands of your staff for it to be effective and sustainable.

It is no good providing fresh fruit in the staffroom if a main stress issue is the unreliable school email system, or an inaccessible SLT

Find out more to support your colleagues:

Read more on the SSAT blog: Before Jill left the profession, did anyone make her a cup of tea?

Follow Georgia Holleran on Twitter

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