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How to cut email-related stress

Without careful management, email can contribute to teacher stress and have a detrimental effect on wellbeing, says Adam Riches

Email stress, teacher workload, teacher emails, workplace

Without careful management, email can contribute to teacher stress and have a detrimental effect on wellbeing, says Adam Riches

Increasingly, schools are run on email power. At face value, email is a way of sending and receiving information in a time-efficient manner.

The problem is that too few schools have guidelines in place for emailing, and this form of communication is starting to have detrimental effects on the wellbeing of teachers.

As the workload of the average classroom teacher builds, their time at a computer increases. This quite often leads to them being contactable (and making contact) out of usual working hours.

Of course, it is a choice to check and use emails out of hours, but when you are asked if you’ve actioned something you were earlier asked about, the pressure begins to build. You feel like you have to check your emails to keep up with those working out of hours and in turn, you begin to fuel the cycle.

Without clear guidelines from leadership, teachers can easily find themselves “on call” at all hours, and this can be hugely demotivating.

What can be done about this?

Manage expectations

We assume, when we send a message, that it will be read and acted upon as soon as possible. This isn’t always the case for the receiver. If a teacher is teaching a full day, it is unlikely they will be able to access their emails until the end of the day, and the expectation of action at that point is unfair. Schools (and individual teachers) need to be aware of the practicalities of using this service for delivering instructions and requests and manage the expectations of the whole staff.

Discourage mass emails

Whole-school emails are a scourge to all. Inboxes become flooded with irrelevant messages about missing pencil cases emblazoned with “Genius at Work”.

Controlling the amount of irrelevant emails flying around is one way of reducing inbox-related stress. By asking all staff to make sure that messages are necessary and relevant before hitting send, you encourage them to take the time to consider if an email is appropriate and, in turn, this reduces the strain on both reader and the sender.

Make time to talk

It can be soul-destroying to receive an email from somebody who is sitting two chairs down from you in the departmental office.

Emails can create real distance between colleagues. The way we communicate in writing often lacks personalisation and it is easy to misread the tone of an email, or misinterpret its messages.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but face-to-face communication is such an important part of the job for me. Teaching is about working together and communicating, not sending messages and sitting in silence.

Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English

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