'The focus on staff wellbeing is making me stressed'

An endless succession of staff-wellbeing events can come at the expense of actual wellbeing, says Samantha Dubois

A group of colleagues, joining hands over the dinner table

I am feeling great, thank you for asking. I say this with a beaming smile, despite the fact that it is a complete and utter lie. 

The reason for my lie is all to do with my wellbeing. Our Monday morning briefings start with a check on how we are all feeling, and anything that is not positive is met with horrified eyes and hushed mutterings. “Why? How could you possibly not be happy?” 

Well, it’s Monday morning in the middle of the autumn term, and I am exhausted. But I put on a happy face and tell everyone how fantastic I feel, as we currently have a big push on wellbeing and this is one of the ways we are meeting it. 

Since the introduction of the new Ofsted framework, wellbeing has been pushed to the forefront of everything we do. And, to be honest, it is creating more work and different kinds of stress.

Perky emails

I am someone who normally gets into school around 6.30am and leaves promptly at 4pm if there is no meeting taking place. It has taken me many years to find a good work-life balance, and sticking to these hours has dramatically improved my wellbeing. I am able to get home, cook dinner, take the dog out and even meet friends for dinner. 

However, because of the big push on wellbeing, schools – including my own – are trying to find ways to tick this new item off their list. As a result, social events are being planned and the pressure to attend them is immense.

Often, a perky email is sent around informing us all about the next social event being planned. Soon enough, a registration sheet is placed in the staffroom for all to see and sign. 

Those who do not sign have to face the judging eyes when these events are mentioned during staff briefings or a passing visit during your break. You have to endure comments such as “but it’s to improve your wellbeing”, or “but everyone is going”. 

As nice as this gesture is, it is creating more work and stress, and causing division between staff who attend and those who do not. I find myself torn between meeting friends and going to dinner with my team. The times when I have chosen the former, it has come at a price, as I spend the evening guilt-ridden.

Not a team player

As much as I adore my colleagues and my school, I find it important to switch off from work. But this new pressure of going out for dinner or doing an exercise class with my colleagues is affecting me even when I am not there. I sit there thinking that I should have gone, that I am not a team player and that I will have to go to work the next day not having been part of an event, and therefore out of the loop.

A close friend of mine, who is also a teacher, has experienced similar issues with his school, who organised a bootcamp after school to improve teacher wellbeing. The majority of his colleagues go to this.

Although he didn't participate in the beginning, he felt a tremendous amount of pressure to do so. So now every Thursday morning he finds himself begrudgingly packing his gym gear, spending the day thinking of elaborate ways to get out of it and then relenting at the end of the day and submitting to the dreaded hour of bootcamp. 

I feel that, outside of directed time, it is your prerogative to do whatever you want to do. We should stand strong and do what we want in our own time.

All the same, as I sit here writing this, I know far too well first thing on Monday I will be signing the registration sheet and going to the next social event. Maybe it will actually improve my wellbeing, because I won't be met with the judging eyes – instead, I will be welcomed with beaming smiles. 

Samantha Dubois is a Year 6 teacher on the outskirts of Essex

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