Wellbeing at Work

Wellbeing at Work

17/04/2019

This area of the website contains a range of guidance and tools to help you actively manage staff wellbeing in your school or college. The resources in this section are open to all, although links to other areas of the website may be restricted to customers of our HR services.

This page provides an overview of the subject and links to other wellbeing topics can be found on the right.

 

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”  

Wellbeing is a broad concept and covers several aspects of the way people feel about their lives. Inevitably this includes how people feel about their jobs and their relationships with the people around them.

In recent years as the importance of staff wellbeing has been recognised many models of wellbeing have been developed. Here is our model, focussing on the key factors affecting wellbeing at work:

You can read more about these individual factors below:

People management

People management is, of course, a broad factor covering a range of work activities and approaches, such as:

  • Leadership style, including degree of delegation
  • Line management
  • Job design and workload
  • Performance assessment and feedback
  • Work reorganisation and restructuring
  • Pay and benefit systems
  • The use of HR policies, such as those covering conduct and absence management

 

There are a multitude of ways in which people management activities can positively (or, of course, negatively) impact on staff wellbeing. Some of those which can positively influence wellbeing include:

  • Having a suite of HR policies which aim to treat people fairly and consistently
  • Line managers who are trained in how to manage people effectively
  • Designing job roles which emphasise quality work and the freedom to innovate
  • Ensuring staff are involved in all key decisions that affect them at work
  • Good quality appraisal and feedback systems
  • Transparent and unbiased approaches to pay and reward

Relationships

The part that good-quality interpersonal relationships has to play in supporting wellbeing at work is self-evident. Where an employee experiences difficulty working with someone - a colleague or line manager, pupil, parent or any other person they must regularly cooperate with - this can negatively affect one or both parties every day they are at work, leaving them feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated or annoyed after every interaction. This may involve no fault on either side - sometimes it can be just a clash of different personalities - or it can result from bullying behaviours, overbearing or dictatorial management styles, a failure to respect boundaries or a whole range of other factors. Where the 'problem' person is in a position of influence, this can amplify the issue, adversely affecting a large number of staff.

Ways in which it may be possible to improve wellbeing through promoting good-quality interpersonal relationships could include:

  • Senior managers exemplifying an open, approachable management style and requiring the same of line managers
  • Promoting equality and inclusion policies and staff codes of conduct
  • Encouraging team working with regular opportunities to collaborate
  • Dealing with any problem relationships swiftly and firmly, escalating to higher management if necessary
  • Ensuring that staff have the opportunity to comment on the quality of working relationships, e.g. through appraisal
  • Organising occasional social activities to allow staff to bond in a less stressful environment and as a way of acknowledging their contribution.

Work-life balance

The issue of work-life balance is a major one for schools and colleges to address and there are few easy solutions in the current economic climate. A 2019 survey of 1,200 teachers by UCL suggested that:

  • 40-50% of teachers within the first 10 years of their career had either already left or were considering leaving
  • 75% of those who had already left cited poor work-life balance and 71% ‘crippling’ workloads
  • Of those still teaching, 16% were planning to leave within 5 years, citing workload (83%) or work-life balance (76%)

 

Whilst the headlines tend to focus predominantly on teaching staff, support staff similarly report workload and work-life balance issues as key factors affecting wellbeing at work.

Whilst acknowledging there are few quick fixes, there are areas that schools and colleges can tackle to have a positive impact on workload and work-life balance and demonstrate that governors/trustees and senior management take the matter seriously. In brief, these might include:

  • Nominating a senior lead to oversee wellbeing (this could be just staff wellbeing or whole school)
  • Gathering feedback from staff on the state of their work-life balance and how it could be improved
  • Considering the human impact of new initiatives
  • Being flexible where possible over working hours and minimising the need to stay late
  • Improving the quality of staff facilities
  • Allowing remote working where feasible
  • Having 'smart' meetings
  • Encouraging staff to step outside and take a break every day
  • Headteachers/principals and other managers leading by example
  • Taking an open-minded approach to flexible working.

 

It is important that schools and colleges recognise the impact that an unhealthy work-life balance has on wellbeing (and by extension, the retention of staff) and keep this high on the agenda. We look in more detail at what can be done to improve work-life balance in our section on Enhancing Staff Wellbeing.

Personal development

Personal development, as a factor affecting wellbeing at work, incorporates all activities which focus on staff growth and learning. Wellbeing is enhanced when people experience job satisfaction and where work is fulfilling the innate need to be challenged. This area therefore covers elements such as performance management and feedback, access to CPD, succession planning, on-the-job learning, job design and the extent to which management is autocratic rather than promoting autonomy and creativity.

Relevant activities which can positively influence wellbeing could include:

  • Making use of coaching and/or mentoring to understand development needs and improve performance
  • Talking to staff about where they wish to develop their skills and knowledge and producing development plans as part of appraisal
  • Ensuring that everyone has access to relevant CPD, whether this is paid-for training or other forms of learning activity appropriate to role (e.g. project work, job shadowing, accessing networks)
  • Encouraging staff to be innovative in suggesting and implementing improvements to how work is done
  • Making the provision of challenging work a focus of job design when reviewing existing jobs or creating new ones
  • Having a succession plan for key roles, allowing appropriate individuals the opportunity to address identified skills gaps through learning and development activites.

Culture and values

Every school and college, indeed every workplace, has a unique culture and this impacts on staff engagement, retention and - of course, linked to both of these - wellbeing. The 'culture' of an organisation is not always easy to pin down, it exists regardless of attempts to shape and influence it, as it manifests chiefly in how staff behave and interact. It is therefore sometimes referred to as an organisation's 'personality'. An organisation's 'values' are part of its culture and form the framework for staff behaviour. Sometimes values have grown organically and are difficult to define, in other cases organisations - including in the education sector - have sought to take the lead by developing a set of stated values which staff are expected to reflect in their day-to-day approach to work.

However the culture and values have developed, there are actions that schools and colleges can take to positively influence the culture and values to support wellbeing. For example:

  • Communicating the vision for the future development of the school or college
  • Developing and embedding values or principles to encourage and reward positive behaviours at work, typically covering such areas as trust, quality, innovation and teamwork
  • Regularly engaging with what staff think about work, what they value (or don't) about what they do and the organisation they work for
  • Encouraging managers to trust experienced staff to do their jobs with light-touch support where necessary.

Employee voice

Employee voice is about how individual staff can influence the matters that affect them at work and through what mechanisms. Where employee voice operates effectively, it impacts positively on productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. It contributes to the continuous improvement of the organisation. Where management do not listen to, or act on, employee voice, staff are increasingly demoralised and disaffected. Employee voice can be heard through a mixture of informal and formal mechanisms, as well as individual and collective ones, such as:

  • Team meetings
  • Line manager reviews and appraisals
  • Suggestion schemes or staff surveys
  • Internal online or face-to-face staff forums or networks
  • Consultation with employee representatives (usually via recognised unions in the education sector)

 

Employee voice can also be used to express emotional states, as a means of dealing with stress and not just with the aim of influencing matters at work.

Senior leaders in particular can benefit from listening directly to front-line staff rather than just talking to their managers.

To develop employee voice into something which positively impacts on wellbeing, schools and colleges can benefit from reviewing existing mechanisms, considering such questions as:

  • What is it that our school/college/trust most values and how can we reflect that in our conversations and engagement with staff?
  • What processes or procedures need to be in place to support employee voice mechanisms? There is likely to be a mix of channels as highlighted above and these need to be an appropriate 'fit' to the organisation.
  • What skills or competencies do our managers need to ensure that employee voice mechanisms are effective? In particular, consider 'soft' skills like listening, the ability to emphathise, feedback skills. These come more naturally to some people than others, so there may be a need for additional training or support. These skills can also be reflected in job profiles for the benefit of future recruitment.