Reclaim your life from the 'time thieves'

7th March 2008 at 00:00

I've recently been involved in giving stress management training to school leaders and school advisers, as well as representatives from other professions.

One thing has become clear; the message out there is always the same - there is never enough time to meet the increasing demands of the job that they do.

My straw poll would seem to confirm the more precise and recent research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), which has identified that managers in Wales are putting in too many hours for too few returns. The findings, from a report Quality of Working Life, have been issued to support the TUC's "Work Your Proper Hours" campaign, and indicate that efforts to reduce working hours in recent years have failed to have a positive impact in Wales.

There is similar doubt over the success of the 2003 workload agreement, which included delegation of 24 non-teaching tasks, a clause about improving work life balance, and a minimum of 10 per cent guaranteed planning, preparation and assessment time.

While the CMI research highlights that 88 per cent of managers in Wales regularly work more than their contracted hours by one hour 18 minutes every day, it has been reported (TES Cymru, September 7, 2007) that in addition to their other duties, headteachers have to process some 70 Welsh Assembly documents a term.

But the report indicates that the long-hours culture is not down to over- bearing bosses. In my experience, teachers and school managers selflessly, and all too frequently, give up lunch times, evenings, weekends and holidays to support the holistic educational experience of pupils.

I have concerns over stress-related sickness and absence and the many teachers who are in poor health while in post. However, I am also concerned with how teachers and school managers take responsibility for themselves.

Any stress or time-management course that I run focuses on self management and pressure. Anyone - regardless of intelligence, gender, personality type and experience - is susceptible to the negative effects of pressure.

Mismanaging pressures can all too easily become the "default position" for many, who then develop stress triggers and related behaviour. GPs report that three out of four patients will have a stress-related complaint, and almost all illness and premature death is now associated with distress.

A first stop should be to conduct a personal audit of daily and weekly "time thieves" so that plans to work smarter can be considered at a personal level, while also helping to create a bespoke organisational or institutional overview.

Teachers and school managers are the greatest asset of the educational institution, a fact which we remind employers of all too frequently. We also need to remind teachers and school managers of this fact to ensure they enjoy a happy and healthy career.

Andy McCann is a former teacher and director of AMCAN Consultancy and Training.

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