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'Empathy can ease exam-time pressure'

We can't always ease each other’s workload, but we can be more considerate of others' wellbeing, writes Julia Belgutay

At exam time, college staff should be careful not to heap more pressure on colleagues

We can't always ease each other’s workload, but we can be more considerate of others' wellbeing, writes Julia Belgutay

Stress, particularly at this time of year, is a constant companion in colleges. With exams kicking off all over the country, this is one of the busiest times on the FE calendar. Workloads get heavier, burdened further by the emotional pressure that comes from thinking “will my students do as well as they have to?”

In exam season, pressures and expectations can reach a peak, and we all know of college staff who have buckled under the strain and ended up sick, or with symptoms of burnout.

This isn’t exclusive to the FE sector, of course. We all experience stress and, for many of us, the main source can be one of the most difficult to tackle: ourselves. Who among us has never felt that they were coming up short of their own expectations? Do you ever feel you need to be seen to be the first through the door in the morning and the last to go home at night?

Plenty will also know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when the work mobile phone bleeps on a Sunday morning.

The danger of careless talk

But work isn’t the only source of stress. Everyone that we encounter has their personal worries, from care responsibilities to financial concerns, or a general feeling that life is not how they had imagined.

While we cannot always ease each other’s workload, we can be more considerate of each other’s wellbeing – even if we don’t know exactly what it is that keeps our colleagues awake at night. In conversations, consider that there may be an awful lot going on in someone’s life beyond the little you know. Talk about the long hours you work may illicit feelings of guilt in a colleague at having gone home on time. Excited chat about holiday plans may remind some that they cannot afford a break. Ultrasound pictures shared on social media can create pain and worry in others.

I am not asking anyone to walk on eggshells or stop sharing. But we can all be kinder and more mindful of the impact that even the most innocent actions may have on those around us.

Julia Belgutay is interim FE editor at Tes. She tweets @JBelgutay

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