There is a connection between financial distress and poor mental health and a recent study by Champion Health discovered that financial pressure is the leading cause of stress outside the workplace for employees replacing the pandemic and relationships. This is understandable given we are living through another historical event – the cost of living crisis. Worrying about money and struggling to manage finances can affect our mood and lead to anxiety, stress and depression. The risk of this is higher for those who already experience poor mental health.
From a HR perspective, we are seeing an increase in staff sickness absence due to stress outside of the workplace and there is a noticeable increase in school staff reaching burnout. It is fair to say that the pandemic has not helped however as our resilience is low, the cost of living crisis and the build up to Christmas may exacerbate stress symptoms as we face additional pressures that the festive season brings. There is an abundance of research that demonstrates that often people overspend beyond their means at Christmas and for many staff, paying their bills over winter as well as budgeting for Christmas is a real worry.
School leaders are often in a difficult position when it comes to supporting staff with financial pressures as unfortunately school budgets do not allow for rewards and bonus schemes like in other sectors. School’s themselves are facing difficult budget decisions given the rising bills and pay increases which in turn can impact on staff morale and wellbeing at all levels.
The other side of the crisis is that often, school teachers and staff are on the front line of witnessing child poverty which can have a huge impact on wellbeing, particularly at times of financial hardship and opportunities to help are limited.
Staff wellbeing isn’t about ticking boxes or giving gifts, it is a much deeper strategic thread that should be running through leadership and management and every decision that is made. If you don’t already have a wellbeing strategy in place then there is no better time to prioritise this as the cost of living is not only impacting on staff wellbeing, it is impacting on resources, retention and recruitment. Here are some idea’s for school leaders and school wellbeing champions to consider in supporting staff with financial stress:
Signpost Employee’s to help
- Your employee assistance programmes usually offer support in financial wellbeing, this is a good place to start.
- The Money Advice Service and the Money Saving Expert are both great free resources that offer advice about ways to save money, reduce energy use and how to get help with managing finances. Consider printing some advice this and displaying around your staff areas for staff to view.
- The Education Support website also offers some great free resources to school staff on budgeting as well as financial advice and support.
- Provide top tips and information on debt management, avoiding loan sharks and latest scams so that employees are educated and can make informed choices.
Stress Risk Assessments
I personally advocate for creating a culture of care whereby employees feel they can openly discuss their mental health at any time. A great way to start is through conducting stress risk assessments with all employee’s as a proactive measure rather than reactive. Although you cannot take away a person’s financial pressures, you can identify any stress triggers in the workplace that might be heightened in a time of high stress and identify support measures. This should in turn help prevent sickness absence.
Mental Health First Aiders and Mental Health Lead
- Consider having a number of staff trained as mental health first aiders and ensure that they are widely promoted among staff to go to in times of need.
- If you are a state funded school consider applying for the DfE grant of £1,200 for a senior leader to be trained in a whole school/college approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Encourage good habits
As we are all very much aware, to be at our best we must look after our physical health as well as our mental health. The cost of food, alcohol, tobacco and gym memberships may be forcing staff to think differently about their diet and exercise regime. You can help by sharing knowledge and educating staff on low budget healthy recipes and promote charities that support with things such as giving up smoking to help staff be healthier and save money. Can you consider lunchtime or afterschool running / walking clubs to help staff keep active for free?
Organise a swap and share
We all know how Christmas itself can be a busy and stressful time but this year with the added financial pressure it may feel magnified. Can you consider a swap and share event where school staff bring in clothing or toys that are nearly perfect to swap or give to reduce present buying? Things that may ordinarily be donated to charity may be the exact thing a colleague is looking for. This has the added benefit of a social event that doesn’t cost to attend. Anything left over can be donated to a chosen charity.
Reduce the social calendar
Rather than arranging your usual festive staff events such as parties, meals, secret Santa’s and so on, why not arrange a bring and share style social event which is inclusive of all staff. Staff can bring along any baked or bought goods keeping the cost very much in their control whilst offering an inclusive opportunity to all staff to attend the festivities.
Arrange training/briefing for all staff on managing finances
If your budget allows, consider arranging an external training provider to come and talk to staff about managing their finances in these difficult times. We have a great partnership with the Manchester Stress Institute who can offer this to schools and the focus is very much on supporting staff with their relationship with money, their control of money and managing their budget, contact email@example.com for more information.