Across the country, work-related stress accounts for almost half of all working days lost.
This is no less prevalent in schools. In fact, in the past 12 months alone, over 500,000 working days have been lost in secondary schools due to stress, depression or anxiety, caused or made worse by work (based on a three-year average from the Labour Force Survey, broken down by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statisticians).
Mental health and the issue of work-related stress are hot topics, and this is something we’re talking about now more than ever.
All employers, including schools, have a legal duty to assess the risk of work-related stress to their employees and to bring in measures necessary to prevent it.
Work-related stress: how to tackle it
Here are five tips for tackling stress in your school:
1. Start talking
Everything we see about mental health shows that it’s good to talk. Talking about mental health problems can make people feel less alone, lift the stigma and help people to find the right support they need to feel mentally well at home and at work.
The same can be said about work-related stress. Having early conversations with teachers and support staff about causes and potential causes of stress makes preventing it more straightforward. This is better than waiting until it's already a problem.
The HSE’s Go Home Healthy campaign has launched a downloadable Talking Toolkit for school leaders, aimed at helping schools to do exactly that.
The Talking Toolkit is a practical guide for line managers in schools to help them have conversations about issues which are causing stress or which could become future causes if not managed properly.
The toolkit has six templates for six different conversations as well as ideas and resources for the prevention of stress.
You can download your Talking Toolkit here.
2. Find the right resources
There are a wealth of resources out there aimed at helping employers, line managers and workers to deal with stress and mental ill-health at work.
Earlier this month the Duke of Cambridge launched #MentalHealthAtWork, a new online gateway to resources and information developed to help workplaces improve staff wellbeing.
A joint initiative between Heads Together and mental health charity Mind, it brings together resources from everyone from Mental Health First Aid England and Time to Change to ACAS and CIPD into one gateway. It allows you to break down the type of resource you’re looking for by sector and the role you have.
You can access the gateway here.
3. Know the causes of stress
Tackling work-related stress in your school is impossible without knowing what the causes are.
HSE has developed its Management Standards approach as one way of uncovering the causes and opening up the discussion across the organisation to help to develop an agreed action plan.
But, whatever approach your school chooses, engaging with staff to find out what the underlying causes of work-related stress are and involving them in identifying solutions is essential. Whether you issue a survey, hold focus groups or discussion forums or implement the full Management Standards, you can’t prevent stress until you know what the causes are.
4. Bust the myths
With demands over workload featuring as one of the key causes of stress for all workers, knowing the difference between what your school needs to do and doesn’t can be essential.
The Department for Education and Ofsted have both released resources that help to bust the myths and identify where schools can remove unnecessary workload for teachers and leaders.
5. Think about more than just wellbeing
Organisations are increasingly drawing up wellbeing strategies and encouraging their employees to take up mindfulness, yoga or meditation to destress.
While these can look like solutions, they don’t remove the causes of work-related stress, and they can’t solve any wider issues. Teaching someone coping techniques without removing the underlying issues with their lesson planning demands or the support they receive from senior management, can cause the problem to get even worse.
Removing the causes is more effective. It supports staff, helps to prevent work-related ill-health and sickness absences and, ultimately, helps your school to fulfil its legal responsibility to protect workers from the risks of work-related stress.
Robert McGreal is the lead work-related stress policy adviser at the Health and Safety Executive