There is no secret to being able to effectively manage your own mental health and wellbeing, let alone that of your school staff.
Maintaining positive mental health in schools is an ongoing process that requires constant investment. Everyone has their own individual needs and different levels of attention.
In schools, it’s common for staff to experience high levels of stress and anxiousness, leading to further manifestations of deteriorating health and wellbeing. 57% of School Business Managers have recently said that the impact of the pandemic on the school budget has led to heightened levels of stress and a negative impact on their personal mental health.
Katie Buckingham, Founder and Director of Altruist Enterprises, provider of mental health and wellbeing training in schools and at work, echoes this:
“It’s a challenging time for education staff. The impact of the pandemic, lack of work/life balance, and an overcrowded curriculum have resulted in unmanageable levels of stress and anxiety.”
In UK schools, there are some factors that are more likely to affect levels of stress and anxiety of certain staff. Aside from tightening budgets, in our recent whitepaper we heard from over 50% of surveyed school staff that the admin burden of carrying cash is a big concern. These issues could contribute to increased workload, leading to heightened stress, and safety concerns for holding physical cash onsite, leading to escalating levels of anxiety.
While implementing solutions to remove these specific stresses by streamlining processes, removing physical cash, and ultimately making more room in your budgets can help, they won’t solve the issue. You’ll need to be able to maintain a people-focussed, caring process that supports staff with any mental health or wellbeing issues that they experience in your school.
Being able to maintain positive staff wellbeing in schools not only ensures your staff are healthy and comfortable, but will also increase productivity and engagement and reduce absence from work. You can support your staff by pointing them in the right direction for the correct help and resources that they can use in their lives to maintain positive mental health, or implement changes and procedures that can cultivate a more positive attitude towards mental health in schools.
While it’s by no means an exhaustive list, and you may already be implementing some of these strategies, here are some ideas to get you started with improving staff mental health and wellbeing in your school.
1. Anonymous staff wellbeing survey
In order to be able to truly support your staff, you’ll need to fully understand how they’re feeling and how they need to be supported. If there are any ideas that staff have for supporting staff wellbeing, they would be invaluable to capture.
Try running an anonymous wellbeing survey in your school. This would create an open forum where staff feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feelings, empowering them to feel safe and heard. In turn, this would enable your school to get an informed picture of the general mental health of your staff so you can accurately implement meaningful improvements.
To get you started, SurveyMonkey offers a free tool which provides a powerful and intuitive platform to construct your surveys. There are also free online resources, such as this ‘Wellbeing Measurement Survey’ template from Anna Freud, which will point you in the right direction for the sorts of questions that you should be asking to your school staff.
2. Mental health and wellbeing champions
An initiative that has been successfully implemented in the NHS, health and wellbeing champions are staff who are tasked with promoting, identifying, and signposting their colleagues to local and national health and wellbeing support.
This can work in your school as well. Check the responses to your wellbeing survey: are there any members of staff who were passionate about the improvement of wellbeing in your school? Ask your staff for volunteers from all corners of the workforce who would be willing to take on the role.
In schools, this means someone who can be a voice for all staff, facilitating grassroots change by building resilience, improving communication, and gaining trust.
In practise, your champions would be sharing information and resources about mental health, running activities and seminars to raise awareness, reaching out to mental health organisations for collaboration, and working with the school to improve mental health standards and support.
People who are able to listen to the needs of your staff, understand what the school can do to help, and engage with the right people to implement changes so that staff can feel safe and heard. With familiar faces to consult and lean on when they are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, this generates a culture of support among staff.
But you can’t pour from an empty cup. When asking for volunteers, be sure not to force people to take on more responsibilities than they can bear. These need to be people who have volunteered of their own will and are confident they can facilitate some extra responsibilities.
3. Mental health first aid training
You don’t have to be an expert to make meaningful strides towards improving wellbeing in your school, but sometimes it’s good to have professional input.
There are organisations out there, such as Altruist Enterprises, who specialise in training your school staff in mental health awareness, mental health first aid, stress management and everything else related to improving wellbeing in schools.
Altruist Enterprises are a specialist provider of Mental Health First Aid courses, Senior Mental Health Lead training and Wellbeing in Schools courses. Working work in partnership with all manner of school staff in schools across the country, their award-winning trainers provide individuals with the practical tools to reflect on current wellbeing practices and implement long-lasting change.
And with options for online or in-person training, and a variety of session lengths and detail, you can tailor each session to your school’s needs and ensure that it doesn’t take too much time away from staff with already busy workloads.
If you’re worried about already-stretched budgets, schools in England are able to apply for DfE funding up to £1,200 to train a senior mental health lead or mental health champion. As an assured provider for the Senior Mental Health Lead course, and having trained over 200 schools since October 2021, Altruist Enterprises offers a holistic training package to support all your school’s needs.
Founder and Director of Altruist Enterprises, Katie Buckingham, shines a light on the positive impact that mental health first aid (MHFA) training can have:
“Mental Health First Aid training plays a key part in promoting positive mental health in schools and is integral in your school’s employee wellbeing strategy. MHFA training increases understanding of mental health and enables school staff to confidently spot the early signs of stress in colleagues and offer appropriate support.”
Investing in professional assistance to guide your efforts and speak directly to your staff will cultivate a healthier and more open culture for discussing and managing mental health and wellbeing among staff.
Aside from actively implementing changes and procedures in your school to better support your staff, there are organisations set up to deliver tailored support and resources for people to use at their leisure, helping them maintain and improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Informing your staff about all of the different available tools is a great way to empower your staff to take their wellbeing into their own hands, allowing them the privacy to deal with their wellbeing at their own pace.
A great place to start for anyone who is seeking help for any mental health issue, Mind is a great foundation.
Championing the push for greater recognition and support for people going through mental health troubles, the charity offers information and advice to anyone who needs it, lobbies government and local authorities, and offers training and consultancy services.
With a plethora of free resources available online ranging from information about different mental health experiences, their triggers, strategies for living with a long-term issue and more, Mind will be able to point anyone in the right direction to seek help for their own personal needs.
Aside from providing individual help, they can also offer your school assistance with your mental health and wellbeing strategies. Offering workplace-specific advice, with the option for training and consultancy centred around creating a supporting and effective workplace and increasing knowledge and awareness of mental health, Mind could be the perfect companion to guide you through your efforts for improving wellbeing in your school.
As a subscription-based app to support mental health and wellbeing, this could be a great tool for your school staff who are looking for tailored help or guidance in their daily life. With a focus on using science-based meditation tools to create life-changing habits, Headspace focuses on the long-term management and maintenance for your happiness, empowering individuals to develop healthy daily practises rather than quick, immediate fixes.
They even have a program tailored for the workplace. So, if this sounds like something that would help a lot of staff (check your wellbeing survey results to see if this would be the right tool for your school), then this could be implemented school-wide for staff to enrol in the program and use when their needs arise.
As a tool focussed specifically on supporting wellbeing and health at work, LifeWorks can be implemented by schools and utilised by staff at their will, preventing turnover, absenteeism, and lost productivity.
For businesses who have implemented the service, their employees are given free access to potentially life-changing resources. With counselling sessions, wellbeing plans, and ad hoc support to anyone who needs it, LifeWorks provides specialist care to your workforce to simplify the complexity in supporting the mental, financial, physical, and social wellbeing in your school.
Could your school staff benefit form a reformed wellbeing strategy?
There are many external factors that can affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing and mitigating these triggers is a start for improving the general health of your staff. But this won’t be the full solution, at least not for everyone, and work-related stresses may only be part of the picture.
What your school will really benefit from is a well-thought-out plan for tackling mental health issues and providing proper care for every staff member.
Starting with some of the advice in this article, investing in implementing professional workplace support, educating your staff and pointing them in the right directions, and installing procedures for support will go a long way to improving wellbeing.
By listening to the needs of your staff and creating a robust framework for their thoughts and feelings to be consistently heard, you’ll be given the tools to make real change for your school, increasing staff health and resulting in greater productivity and fewer absences.
It can also help to fully understand the challenges that are facing your school and its staff, as tackling these will show a desire to improve working conditions, minimising workplace stress.
From our recent survey of 3,000 school staff in the UK, anxieties around the handling of physical cash is just one concern that we found. And this isn’t a new development; some research has shown that issues around holding physical cash in schools can cause unwelcome stress for office and admin staff.
To read more about some of the key issues currently facing UK schools, read our latest whitepaper, ‘How the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way UK schools operate’: