Well-being at work

The term ‘well-being’ has rocketed into the headlines and there is a pressing obligation for all organisations to understand and take seriously the need for a strategic and meaningful well-being strategy for staff.
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All a fuss about nothing?

The term ‘well-being’ has rocketed into the headlines and there is a pressing obligation for all organisations to understand and take seriously the need for a strategic and meaningful well-being strategy for staff. With 5.4 days lost from each employee per year in the education sector due to absence, in comparison to the national average of 4.1, and the fact that teaching features in the top three occupations to suffer from stress and depression, it is evident more must be done to support staff in coming to work healthy and happy.

Within our schools there is a primary focus on the welfare of students, educational outcomes and managing continual funding challenges, well-being may be seen as just ‘something else to do’ in the daily lives of a Headteacher and Leadership Team. Leaders need to come away from the ideology that staff well-being can be achieved by a few tick box exercises or positioning a fruit bowl in the staff room. It simply cannot.

Well-Being is complex and the notion will mean something different to every one of us, well-being covers all aspects of our lives including, our physical and mental health, our social interactions, our finances and our job satisfaction. The hard part is finding out which strategies will have the biggest impact for the maximum amount of staff in your school and in budget.

I attended the ‘Well-being at Work’ conference in Birmingham last term and soon realised that well-being in the workplace was an extensive, mind-blowing and confusing concept which covered everything from nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, policy, regulations, flexibility, insurance, financial health, social & community and even dogs at work! What came apparent is that most leaders don’t do enough to support a meaningful plan, but honestly in my view most leaders do not know where to start.

What do Ofsted say?

Ofsted have quite rightly brought attention and focus to the importance of well-being for staff in the new framework for Sept 2019. In their research they have found that the main areas which negatively impact on well-being are; a lack of support (from senior leaders); pupils’ behaviour; workload and marking pupils’ work. Judgements in the new framework for ‘Outstanding’ Leadership & Management will include an assessment on ‘the extent to which leaders take into account the workload and well-being of their staff in order to deliver a high-quality education, while also developing and strengthening the quality of the workforce’.

What can we do?

It is obvious that if staff feel healthy, motivated and energised their performance is likely to increase and outcomes are likely to improve. Leaders need to begin by implementing a measurable strategic scheme, sometimes called a policy, plan or charter. Leaders need to focus on three strands to build an effective scheme; the organisation as a whole, training for leadership & management and educating our workforce.

1) The Organisation

Your school’s well-being values should closely match your general school values and mission. This should underpin your fundamental approach to well-being. If your values are to enrich and support the lives of young people, then this should be your mission when supporting the staff working for you. Getting the culture of your school to match your values is important, there must be a real commitment from Governors and Senior Leaders to want to enrich the lives of staff and to make the school not only a happy place to learn but a happy and productive place to work. Well-being has to be embedded into systems, role modelled and visible for staff to buy-in.

Collation of data is important. A carefully conducted survey or questionnaire preferably undertaken by an external source is a good starting point to provide you with appropriate data to make key decisions. Analysis of attendance or retention data is important to provide due diligence on where the need for action can be targeted.

2) Leadership & Management

Leaders and managers must model the values underpinning the culture. They should be equipped with the skills necessary to tackle issues relating to both absenteeism and presentism in the workforce. An analysis of leaders’ skills is an invaluable exercise. Some leaders may need support or training on having difficult / sensitive discussions with staff or basic line management training, some may not understand the concept of well-being.

Your school will already have policies in place which should support well-being such as Attendance, Flexible Working, Recognition and Reward, Appraisal and Student behaviour Policies. Leaders must be equipped with the expertise to ensure these policies are understood and followed consistently. These should not be seen as punitive policies but as processes to support employees. Leaders should explain to staff how they can access Occupational Health or Counselling if they should need it to support them through tricky patches in their life and to avoid absences. Staff should be assured that the school will seriously consider flexible working to support work life balance (a great way to reduce staff budget). Leaders must ensure school systems are in place and carried out with consistency..

Effective communication systems are vital, leaders must ensure staff feel they can share concerns and to seek help at an early stage. Understanding and getting to know your staff at a personal level is key to enabling you to find out what they need or want at work which will suit their life needs. Asking staff how they are feeling about their workload, a change at work or just generally after a weekend can provide you with so much information, don’t allow the ‘ok’ answer, and really invest time in exploring how they are truly feeling.

3) Your Staff

We need to ensure our Leaders have the capacity and knowledge to take charge of well-being so they can guide and signpost staff to help and support. Well-being must be owned by everyone, leaders must educate staff to take responsibility of their own well-being and to be equipped to change mind-set. Your work-force need to ‘buy-in’ to the culture of the school. Staff need to believe that their well-being is important to the organisation. Every one of us will have a different need to improve our own well-being and this may change from week, month or year depending on our busy lives. A school needs to have a well-being strategy which is flexible enough to meet the needs of staff when they need it.

Quick wins:

I have seen some excellent well-being practice in schools which include some of the following ideas for you to consider…

  • A culture of saying thank you; regular emails are sent to individuals to thank them or to commend them on a piece of work or task; in assembly the Headteacher thanks a member of staff for a particular duty undertaken in front of colleagues and pupils; a ‘thank-you’ board in the staff room for staff to thank and praise each other; end of term treats for all.
  • Direct access to health advice; NHS coming to school to do general Health checks; menopause advice sessions; access to health insurance; access to confidential telephone counselling; Mental Health First Aiders accredited in schools.
  • Focus on nutrition; water bottles given to all staff and encouragement to drink water throughout the day; fresh fruit supplied in the staff room for staff to grab and keep energised; menu cards shared in the staff room for great nutritious recipes; a healthy bake-off competition.
  • Access to activity / sport; exercise classes put on at the start/end of the school day; walking groups at lunch time; gym subscription discounts; and even a well-attended hoola-hoop championship!
  • Team building; organised social activities organised; bowling championships; book and magazine swaps in the staffroom; book clubs; staff vegetable plot; annual team building events and a monthly gin tasting club!
  • Flexibility; all staff leave the premises at 3.30pm twice a week; PPA carried out at home; compressed hours; flexible working requests supported; additional time off on birthdays; a day off for Christmas shopping.
    If you apply a flexible, meaningful and equitable approach to well-being in your school you should improve the lives of your staff. With a more energised staff performing well will have a positive improvement on the outcomes of the pupils in you school.

One Education will be delivering a ‘Well-being in Schools’ Seminar on the 20th June. We will further explore how an effective well-being strategy can be set up, monitored and assessed and will review case studies from schools where measures have effectively raised standards across the board.

Following the seminar, we will be offering individual schools a programme of support to help them achieve an effective strategy across 19/20.


Pam has been advising schools for over 10 years and is a primary school governor with safeguarding responsibilities. Pam worked as HR Manager at a secondary school and has experience of developing school improvement plans and supporting the school through a full Section 5 Ofsted Inspection.

Please get in touch or visit our Human Resources section for more information.

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