HR Support

Returning to school: supporting employee wellbeing

Our Senior HR Manager, Pam Mason, offers some guidance on how best to support the wellbeing of employees who are being asked to return to the school premises.

By Pam Mason on 22 May 2020

Our Senior HR Manager, Pam Mason, offers some guidance on how best to support the wellbeing of employees who are being asked to return to the school premises.

There continues to be much uncertainty how the Governments proposals to formally open schools to some year groups will roll out from the 1st June. Some Leaders feel they haven't had sufficient guidance or data to allow them to open the doors to larger numbers of students. However there are school and academy leaders who feel they can open their doors safely and are planning to do so in June. This uncertainty and gap in knowledge will mean many staff are feeling anxious and concerned about returning to the school premises.

My last blog examined how to support your employees working at home, here is my updated guidance how to support the wellbeing of employees who are being asked to return to the school premises. The main emphasis must be around re-establishing routines, structures and security for staff and bringing the whole school team back together in a way they feel fully informed and supported. Some employees will struggle more than others with a return to 'normal' after being in lock down for eight weeks, these employees will need extra support and care. Employees will have different home circumstances and fears which need to be addressed sensitively and sensibly.

Top Tips:

  • Staff buy-in: Engage with all staff at the earliest opportunity, ensure they have been given a chance to raise immediate issues and concerns. It would be best practice to have staff in school before students come back in so they can be informed about new school systems, key personnel and protocols and raise any questions they may have either as a group or individually. If you have trade union stewards in school have a separate meeting with them to discuss reopening plans and invite their opinions.

  • Staff 'temperature checks': Undertake short assessments to see how staff are feeling, maybe a quick survey monkey every fortnight upon return (and just before) - not using a thermometer!

  • Staff survey: Keep it simple. Assess where staff fears and anxieties generally lie to ensure you can quickly respond

  • Leadership: Ensure SLT and middle leaders are fully up to speed with uniformed key messages, this will help employees have confidence in their knowledge and way forward

  • Risk assessments: Share your COVID risk assessment with staff, obtain their views, check their understanding especially around social distancing, hand washing, PPE etc. Consider undertaking stress risk assessments will all staff during the first few weeks.

  • Health & Safety: Ensure staff are fully updated on Health & Safety matters involving themselves and students prior to returning. Test their knowledge with scenario based questions and FAQs

  • Training: There may have been changes to your operational policies such as behaviour and safeguarding or key personnel, ensure all staff (and students) understand the changes and new expectations

  • Communication: Ensure communications continue using a range of methods, some employees may still be working from home whilst others are school based. A weekly newsletter or email from the leadership team would be helpful in maintaining contact and answering common questions amongst employees.

  • Delegation: Give key staff responsibility areas upon return and ask them for daily / weekly updates to ensure systems are working effectively

  • Parental complaints & issues: Provide staff with guidance how to deal with parental issues and complaints, an FAQ document of likely concerns should be compiled so staff have confidence in dealing with any low level problems consistently. It is paramount that parents understand how and who concerns should be raised with once their child returns to school.

  • Working together: Encourage staff to work in sub groups, ensure they have connection time with their teams and colleagues, they can bounce concerns and ideas off each other, again establishing the 'team spirit' which should help in reducing stress

  • Grief and loss: It may be necessary to offer 'grief and loss' programmes depending on how the virus has effected your school community

  • Mental health: Share useful links for on-line resources and remind staff they can have 1-1 meetings with their line managers to discuss anxieties and fears. If you have trained 'Mental Health First Aiders' in school ask them to become active in supporting their colleagues

  • Counselling & Occupational Health: If employees require more individualised support remind them referrals can be made easily via Occupational Health

  • Fun and Motivation: We have seen so many schools doing fun twitter messages, staff zoom meetings, fun quizzes and on-line socials, don't stop doing this, keep the moral up which will improve motivation!

A final key message for all staff should be 'we are all in this together', a commitment that measures will be reviewed daily and that the school will only be open if it can do so safely.

Leaders also need to recognise their own wellbeing needs, modelling good practice is essential to set the right wellbeing culture in school. Please keep in touch with us at hrpeople@oneeducation.co.uk with any questions or enquiries you may, these are exceptional times and we are here to help you through them.

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