The PERMA(H) Model for Workplace Wellbeing
Are your staff struggling to keep their heads above water, especially after dealing with a pandemic for over 2 years?
Introducing new initiatives is a challenge when your staff are on the brink of burnout. Whether staff are constantly calling in sick, struggling to bounce back post-lockdowns or you are experiencing pushback on new ideas, the pressure of an increasing workload and challenging students can stop progress in its tracks.
What we need in schools, is an approach which plans for and considers the multiple elements required to increase staff psychological safety.
Where to find such an approach? Well, look no further…
The model I am about to introduce has, in part, informed my own approach to training school leaders and teachers on how to improve health and wellbeing in themselves and in their schools.
The PERMA Model was developed by Positive Psychology pioneer Martin Seligman. PERMA stands for five elements or components: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. (1)
By focusing our energies on each of these pillars of wellbeing, we can feel more positive, resilient, and fulfilled personally and professionally.
The Pillars of the PERMA(H) Model
We know that people perform better in work and life when they are happier. When this is the case, their mood is optimised, and they are more optimistic and stress-resilient in general. When we feel this way, we experience less stress and increased energy to show up to work and get stuff done.
Finding ways to ignite more positive emotions in staff can range from building more awareness of ourselves and others, expressing gratitude and appreciation, building perspective, developing emotional intelligence, nurturing relationships among staff and more. To begin the process, I always suggest engaging in some kind of self-reflection and discussion with a leader or team; this is a great way to get the ball rolling.
Alternatively, schools can survey their staff through an Anonymous Staff Wellbeing Survey that assesses general wellbeing, burnout risk, workplace wellbeing, leadership, morale and processes currently in place. The next important step is to explore training or professional development for your staff and leaders, so they can build skills and strategies to support themselves and others.
The recipe to more staff engagement is to harness more motivation with job roles and opportunities that excite and empassion staff. This can begin with finding ways to identify, use and apply their strengths. Martin Seligman and other researchers have noted that when work demands our engagement, such as using our strengths in new and innovative ways, we experience higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression. (2)
How do we get started on this? Well, we support our staff in identifying their strengths through self-identification or the use of assessment tools like a VIA strengths assessment, and then we find ways for them to utilise their unique strengths in their job roles.
Without meaningful relationships, collaboration is less likely, and without collaboration, it is going to be hard to see any concrete outcomes or innovation in the workplace. Social support in the workplace and perceived support from the organisation as a whole appear to have a protective effect against mental health difficulties and a decline in health and wellbeing. This involves building strong relationships amongst staff but also addressing any potential conflicts as they arise.
Strong relationships can be developed in several ways, from encouraging the development of relationships to creating opportunities that help maintain and strengthen them. The best way to do this is to regularly bring teams and groups of staff together to create shared experiences and common reference points and stories. (Haas & Mortensen, 2016). Download my team-building ideas here. Following on from this, a focus on building collective teacher efficacy through adopting or reviewing and improving a PLC approach or model is a way to work towards instructional goals as a team.
Creating a shared sense of purpose or establishing a vision (beyond the school or company mission statement) ensures clarity, understanding, and buy-in from staff. We all know that teachers are in education to make a difference – but sometimes, the cost of their hard work (workload, parent complaints, and student behaviour) can wear them down.
Uniting staff with a shared vision for where they are headed as a collective and reminding them of why they do what they do keeps their eye on the prize. They realise they are in this together – working side-by-side to make a difference. Without this reminder or a gentle nudge in the right direction, school staff can forget why they signed up for this in the first place.
To get started, create a staff wellbeing action plan in teams. You could identify what you value about wellbeing and relationships, then identify what you will need to do to uphold these values. Finish with an identification of what the outcomes of your actions could be.
Setting goals and reaching them is motivating. Without clear direction, feelings of success, and affirmation from leaders, staff can lose interest and feel lost. Leaders can empower their people by setting goals regularly with their staff and taking the time to acknowledge and notice the wins – no matter how big or small.
Some staff need support to see their accomplishments – a leader who takes the time to notice and highlight these will help build the confidence and capacity of their team. Confident and capable teams are more innovative, collaborative, and loyal – and capable of better outcomes.
Health – the missing element
I think Seligman’s work is missing an element … HEALTH. I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence as a Health Coach if I didn’t tweak his approach just a teeny bit. This is why renaming the model PERMAH feels like a good option.
Many school leaders and teachers come to me with plenty of ideas for improving school or classroom outcomes, yet they seem unable to maintain their energy or the will to keep at it. As we dive a little deeper, we can see how things like low nutrient stores, imbalanced hormones, poor sleep, lack of exercise, and chronic and unmanaged stress can impact their ability to see the results they desire at work and in their personal lives. This is where I come in to support school staff with better ways to look after their health and wellbeing. . With this head start, we start to see some real traction in their ability to develop their work capacity.
The PERMA(H) model teaches us that wellbeing is complex and layered, and we must work to enrich each of the 6 areas in order to feel balanced and well-rounded.
In order to affect real change at your school, you must be willing to take an approach that addresses the very foundations of success. If your staff aren’t feeling motivated, engaged, and accomplished, it is very difficult for them to show up each day and give it their all. The health and wellbeing of staff is a crucial component to consider when you are evaluating your whole-school performance and why you may be missing the mark. After all, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Therefore, it is in every school’s best interest to support every member of their staff in a way that fosters a sense of community and togetherness and supports their individual needs.
My 6-Step approach to improved staff wellbeing and school culture takes into account each of the 6 areas outlined in the PERMA(H) model and seeks to provide schools with solutions to boost these areas of wellbeing for all staff.
Learn more about how I can help you support staff wellbeing and build a healthier workplace culture by exploring my School Wellbeing Consulting services.
2. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. Seligman (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and wellbeing. New York: Free Press
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