There is no quick or simple answer to “what is staff wellbeing?”, as there are multiple descriptions and definitions. The office of national statistics reports on a UK wellbeing dashboard with 43 measures, including financial, access to green space, relationships, loneliness and more.
When considering staff wellbeing from an employer’s perspective, we need to be more focused and might consider things such as:
- How staff feel (personally and socially).
- How they evaluate their life satisfaction and not just moment to moment happiness.
- How they develop and become fulfilled – which is also why training, continuing professional development and career aspirations are so important.
- How they function – physically, emotionally, mentally (including positive psychology) and spiritually.
- The degree to which they experience positive effect as being greater than negative effect.
The last two definitions have very clear links to resilience, where the focus is to build protective factors (positives) and mitigate risk factors (negatives).
In order to improve staff wellbeing in the workplace, the biggest focus should be on those things that staff see as being caused by work and that can be influenced by workplace interventions. The Health and Safety Executive management standards best explain these (see below). It is why we use these when running surveys and working with schools.
The major causes of workplace stress and poor staff wellbeing
The six management standards are:
- Demands (includes workload, working hours, deadlines, behaviour and anything that adds to the demands you face).
- Control (the say staff have over what they do and how they work).
- Support (from school and particularly from line managers, senior leaders and colleagues).
- Relationships (how well positive behaviours are encouraged and any inappropriate behaviours dealt with effectively and quickly).
- Role (staff know what is expected of them and how their work fits with that of their department and the aims of the school).
- Change (and how it is managed).
Yet, it isn’t simply workload, lack of autonomy, relationships or change, for example, that are the biggest issues. It is much more about how these are managed within your school.
It is all about leadership and, in fact, the biggest single cause of poor staff wellbeing is line managers!
It’s not always their fault, and much more about the knowledge and experience they have built and the role models they have had. One day a teacher or support staff member, the next they lead a team, often with no or little training.
And they often have to continue to do 90%+ of their previous job! It’s no wonder they have such an impact.
They learn the hard way through trial and error and are sometimes simply unaware of how their behaviours affect others.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, a leading UK expert on organisational wellbeing and President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, believes that too many line managers simply do not have the necessary social and soft skills to lead.
But the good news is these skills are all learnable competencies.
Creating an environment that supports staff development, encourages them to make decisions, to take responsibility and learn from mistakes (rather than being judged) will improve staff wellbeing and deliver significant benefits to school leaders and students.
Of course, there are also pressures staff will feel from outside work and these can play a significant part for any individuals suffering chronic stress or poor mental health.
Finances, relationships, bereavement, caring responsibilities, uncertainty, poor health or lack of sleep, are just a few of the areas outside work that can have a significant impact.
It is why it is so important that leaders show an interest and check in with staff members about what is happening for them beyond work. They should understand what to look out for and where to guide team members for any support that is outside their knowledge and expertise.
If you have any questions or would like to find out more about staff wellbeing and how to improve it, please get in touch.