Staff Wellbeing - First Steps
Putting staff not students first is the way to build long-term sustainable results and reduce costs – retaining good staff and helping make sure they are present, motivated and energised.
But what are the first steps school leaders might take to improve the wellbeing and experience of their staff? While it will depend on your starting point, there is common ground.
The ideas below aren’t new or innovative – just simple steps and many of you may well be taking them already.
Where are you now?
Understand your current position and create your baseline. Interrogate school data; number of leavers, why they leave, staff absences, disputes and grievances and other issues taking up too much staff or management time, for example underperformance.
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Once you have done this you will be able to see some obvious key areas that need tackling. There is one further step that will help you make sure you focus on the right areas. Running a whole school wellbeing questionnaire. Make sure this is evidence based, recognised and reliable. You must be able to understand what the results mean and be able to act.
While you may be tempted to create your own to avoid cost, this isn't usually the best option as you cannot be sure what you are measuring and unless it has benchmarks, it can lead you to putting effort into areas where there is little scope to improve.
Having a third party run it for you should also mean you receive a report and are guided to the areas where you can have the biggest impact. It also helps with staff believing their responses really are anonymous.
Share outcomes with staff
Whatever your results, you must share them with staff and not bury any bad news! I have seen schools do this when the results are not what they want – but if you ask for feedback and ignore it, you will make things immediately worse.
Separate your results into 3 areas.
- Those to celebrate and where you are doing well
- Those that can be fixed quickly with the lowest effort (and take the action to address these)
- Those that will need more investigation and the support of staff in creating solutions
By involving staff you create shared responsibility - this isn't something for leaders to 'fix' in isolation.
Once you have reviewed the results with staff and identified your gaps, set some clear goals. Without clarity of intended outcome, it is difficult for schools to achieve improvements. Just having a goal to improve wellbeing isn’t enough, and being clear on the priority areas, as well as the results to be achieved will make the difference.
These may be about the working hours, reducing specific activities, changing the way something is done, or giving staff more autonomy in certain areas. Apply the usual SMART ideas and review regularly. Be realistic and focus on a small number of steps and you can always add to them later.
You might also look at how staff are recruited, what happens on day one when they join, their first few weeks, the support staff are given, development opportunities, and why and how staff leave. It is through their experiences that reputations are built and future recruitment and retention of good people becomes easier (or harder).
Make Your Plan
What are the specific actions that you will take to achieve your goals and how will you make these part of your school improvement or development plan? Prioritise, take small steps, build wellbeing into daily actions.
While this may be obvious, wellbeing is often treated as an add-on or something that can be changed and improved without it being an everyday occurrence, Yet, following any initiative, for example a wellbeing day, what is different for staff each day?
It’s just plan – do – review. The biggest challenge to embedding change according to the world’s renowned expert in this area (Kotter), is that we celebrate success too early – so keep reviewing, even after any initial breakthroughs.
Build into daily life
The number 1 cause of poor wellbeing in the workplace is how staff feel they are treated by leaders and others in their school. Does the leadership team have their back, are they fair and consistent, and are they supported through workload challenges and involved in decisions that affect them?
Understanding the competencies that have been proven to prevent and reduce stress in staff is important, and the fastest results will come through leaders adapting and modifying some of their behaviours.
The good news is these behaviours and competencies have been identified through extensive research. I have shared them before and made available a sample questionnaire. If you would like to know more about them, just get in touch.
It is also about the rules, policies and processes that support leaders and staff and making sure these are fit for purpose and used effectively. A great example is the performance management and 'appraisal' process and the effectiveness and regularity of 1 to 1 conversations being held.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Make your plans public and regular agenda items – share progress, the ups and downs. Ask for help, let staff know the part they need to play, and invite ongoing involvement.
You don’t have to get everything right, or think ideas or the success of this is just down to leaders. Staff will respond to genuine effort and open feedback – they just want to know they are listened to and that work is being done to improve the situation.
While it is about building actions into daily life and continual improvement, follow up by repeating your questionnaire each year. As well as being another reliable measure of progress, it also sends a message to staff about the continued importance you place on them and their feedback.
There is nothing earth shattering in this approach, but in the busyness of schools, many find it difficult to give it headspace and spend most of their time talking about the need to be focussed on students, and their results.
The evidence is clear that a focus on staff brings the biggest benefits, including to student outcomes and exam results.
If you have any comments or questions or want to fins out more about improving staff wellbeing then e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.