Initiatives To Improve Staff and Teacher Wellbeing

The Top Rated Initiatives To Improve Staff and Teacher Wellbeing (And How to Address Them)

With staff burnout and stress on the rise, schools are regularly looking for ways to prioritise staff well-being and provide initiatives that enable their staff to feel valued, cared for, and supported. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned leaders often make the mistake of providing and promoting support options and initiatives that don’t meet their staff’s needs.

The result of these well-intentioned efforts is that staff still appear exhausted, burnt out, and, in some cases, frustrated or negative. Leaders and wellbeing committee members are left scratching their heads, wondering why their planned “Wellbeing Week” or a canceled staff meeting didn’t result in happier staff. 

After spending most of this year conducting and reviewing staff wellbeing surveys with schools across the country, I have begun to track some emerging themes in the data. Staff are reporting what their top stressors are and what they suggest will alleviate or reduce their workplace stress. 

And spoiler alert – what staff are calling out for isn’t more morning teas, fruit bowls or recommendations to access their EAPs. Instead, they are suggesting a change in how staff wellbeing is viewed, promoted and handled in the workplace. 

This article will cover:

  • The impacts of stress and burnout on the mental, emotional, and physical health of school staff
  • Common workplace stressors
  • Top-rated helpful initiatives to improve staff wellbeing (and tips to address each)

The impacts of stress and burnout on the mental, emotional and physical health of school staff 

When chronic stress goes unmanaged and burnout remains unaddressed, it has implications that affect a person’s whole wellbeing. Staff are pushing through workdays low on energy and motivation, experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and finding themselves unable to shut off at night and get good rest because their nervous system is in overdrive. Little by little, unaddressed chronic stress chips away at every aspect of an individual’s health and wellbeing. When reviewing the data captured across schools using my Anonymous Staff Wellbeing Survey, 56% of the staff surveyed reported that they were experiencing burnout (or multiple symptoms of burnout). More alarmingly, 37% reported that they don’t feel well mentally and emotionally, and 49% indicated that their stress is impacting their physical health.

Workplace Stressors: The Straws Breaking The Camel’s Back

In my previous article, I discussed occupational versus organisational stressors, as well as the top reported stressors according to the data from our Anonymous Staff Wellbeing Surveys

What this article highlighted was that workload-related problems and administrative tasks are weighing down staff and are the leading causes of stress. Managing student behaviour is also an ever-growing challenge. 

The leading causes of workplace stress are likely being amplified by the current state of Education and the lack of adjustment or adaptation in the way we lead our schools and make decisions. This is all compounding staff frustration as they struggle to keep up with the expectations placed upon them while navigating enduring challenges like staff shortages. 

Addressing teacher stress with the right initiatives 

Supporting our staff’s health and wellbeing requires more than just a blanket approach. While traditional wellbeing-related initiatives might have worked in the past, they alone are not enough to bring our staff back from the brink of burnout. 

The best approach to improving staff wellbeing and culture is to weave it into the fabric of our school. Culture-building strategies that make up a well-rounded approach to wellbeing must be combined with strategic and targeted adjustments to the way we lead our schools; this approach should speak to our staff, our peers, and the way we make decisions. Our Anonymous Staff Wellbeing Survey asks staff what they believe would be the most helpful initiatives to improve staff wellbeing at their schools. In 2024, the top reported suggestions include reducing workload and flexible working schemes, improving communication with the leadership team and between staff, a more focused approach to staff wellbeing, team/relationship-building opportunities, and more focus on student behaviour.

A reduction in workload 

Workload and administrative tasks were two major contributors to staff and teacher stress. Teacher workload typically includes communication, curriculum planning and delivery, marking, feedback and assessment, data management and collection, and managing student behaviour. 

Tips to reduce or balance out staff workload and administrative tasks

  • Identify where the staff workload challenges lie. Survey staff about their workload challenges and/or hold structured professional discussions to find solutions
  • Regularly review staff workloads, cut out unnecessary work, and re-consider additional projects, tasks, initiatives, or expectations when staff report workload challenges. Encourage staff to discuss issues so solutions can be developed
  • Adhere to legislative requirements and encourage staff to do the same: Ensure staff have and take appropriately timed and regular breaks, provide sufficient information and instructions regarding tasks and procedures in a timely manner 
  • Allocate additional time to complete core business tasks, delegate administrative tasks to administrative staff and/or narrow your school’s focuses to replace currently used time to address the core administration requirements (i.e., re-consider meeting agendas, booked professional learning opportunities and non-priority tasks)
  • Effectively upskill teachers in productivity. Provide training and support them to prioritise tasks, give warning and guidance on urgent jobs and define their performance expectations.

Time off and flexible working schemes

Flexible working options are being explored by some schools as a way to balance out the increasing work demands of teachers and staff. While daunting, this is a possible avenue of exploration. Of course, this approach will likely take some initial coordination and funding, but it may be a useful long-term plan to support staff wellbeing, improve retention and attract high-quality staff, which in turn improves school performance. 

Tips to offer time off and flexible working arrangements include:

Improved communication with the school’s leadership team and between staff 

Harnessing the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills leaders and staff can have. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. When asked which initiatives would be valuable at their school, many staff across schools suggested more/improved communication with the leadership team and between staff. 

Across the comment sections in the surveys, respondents provide feedback, including the challenges associated with unclear school directions, the discrepancy between messages depending on the leader, a lack of transparency, changes to processes or decisions without notification, last-minute communications or requests, no communication and unanswered communication (i.e., emails). 

The current research emphasises how the pandemic has led to staff craving more certainty and clarity at work and from their leaders. This may require a refocus on our communication channels and transparency in schools, as well as open discussions with staff to identify where their communication challenges lie. 

Tips to improve communication include:

  • Ensure staff consultation on decisions impacting them (I encourage schools to go above and beyond for good measure!)
  • Communicate in more ways than one: written, verbal, training, presentations, during staff meetings, surveys, etc
  • Consider leadership coaching or staff professional development opportunities with a focus on effective communication
  • Plan more time for staff to collaborate in teams and across areas in the school (i.e., staff meetings, professional development, and strategic or school-focus teams)
  • Optimise meetings: Prepare the agenda, engage attendees, and pay attention to how much energy is put into the meeting’s takeaways.

A more focused approach to staff wellbeing 

It’s been rare to come across a school where the approach to staff wellbeing is clearly defined and known by all staff. In many schools, departmental directions are heavily focused on instruction and student wellbeing but rarely on staff wellbeing. Unfortunately, the wellbeing of staff is considered an afterthought or something that staff should be responsible for sorting out on their own. Furthermore, leaders aren’t necessarily equipped to recognise the signs of burnout or mental health struggles in their staff, let alone have the skills to address these sensitive concerns. 

A more focused approach to staff wellbeing would ideally put measures and policies in place that protect staff wellbeing and reduce stressors. 

My survey data reflects that many staff may require additional support, validation, and access to treatment to manage their health and wellbeing during such a complex time in the world and in schools. 

Tips to focus your approach to staff wellbeing include:

Explore and implement my 6-step approach to improved staff wellbeing and school culture to create a narrow and focused approach for addressing staff health and wellbeing in a meaningful way.  

Team/Relationship building opportunities 

According to Positive Psychology’s PERMA(H) model, relationships impact our wellbeing, so  it’s crucial that we also focus our attention on this top suggested initiative.

Social support in the workplace, as well as perceived support from the leadership and greater staff, appears to have a protective effect against a decline in health and wellbeing. 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, mostly during work hours. (Haas and Mortensen, 2016). Some schools now face challenges with fewer opportunities to get together, cliques forming, gossip, and conflicts between staff going unresolved. Team relationship building isn’t just about planning after-work drinks or a “scavenger hunt” during week 0; it’s also about smoothing out the nuances affecting relationships on a daily basis. 

Ways to do this:

  • Find ways to schedule shared experiences inside work hours (in lieu of a meeting)
  • Schedule regular out-of-school activities (dinners, group sporting events, interesting new hobbies, or exploring the interests expressed by staff) 
  • Explore staff’s varying personalities, strengths and working styles
  • Explore team-building activities
  • Regularly check in with one another
  • Manage and prevent conflict 
  • Create a coaching and mentoring model where staff can work together across teams
  • Co-create shared norms to ensure professional collaboration 

More of a focus on student behaviour and wellbeing 

Managing challenging students and behaviour was another theme emerging across survey responses—a large portion of staff across multiple schools mentioned that the management of difficult student behaviour contributes to their stress. Additionally, many staff suggested an ‘improved or more focused approach on student management, behaviour and/or wellbeing’ as a helpful initiative to improve their wellbeing at work. 

Across the survey’s short text sections, many staff express frustrations about a lack of consistency with student management practices, limited skills, capacity, and experience managing major behaviours, and a perceived lack of leadership support and follow-up in classrooms. 

Tips to focus on behaviour include:

Attend our FREE Staff Wellbeing Training

Embed A Proven Staff Wellbeing Framework To Boost Morale, Reduce Burnout, And Elevate School Performance in 2024

Discover the exact steps you need to take to earn staff buy-in and get your teams working collaboratively and productively toward improved wellbeing, culture, and performance in 2024.

In the training, I unpack why many wellbeing initiatives fall short, the common mistakes schools make when implementing staff wellbeing approaches, the critical interplay between personal and workplace wellbeing, how to embed a proven Staff Wellbeing Framework with our 6-step approach, and so much more! 

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