You must clock off

4th March 2005 at 00:00
All work and no play is a recipe for nervous breakdowns. Margaret Adams poses five questions every teacher should ask about work-life balance

Whether you are looking for a new job or considering staying put, assessing the progress a school is making in looking after its workforce should influence your decision.

Your personal health will be in danger if you do not take the time to find out if the school where you are thinking of working takes the subject seriously. If strategies to help you to improve the situation in your present job have not been implemented, you could already be suffering the consequences. So take the time to find the answers to the following questions when weighing up whether to accept a new post or not.

Is work-life balance on the management agenda in school?

Do staff discuss this? Is there a policy? Do managers take it seriously? For example, do they consider staff commitments outside work when allocating tasks and responsibilities? Are managers developing strategies to help teachers and other staff to work reasonable hours? If it is not part of a manager's daily concerns, it will be difficult for any such aspirations a school has voiced to be fulfilled. To help staff achieve the right balance, the subject must become one of a school's central concerns - make sure it is.

Are the working patterns of everyone in school being considered?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that in some schools teachers'

workloads have been reduced in line with the aspirations of the workforce reform agenda, but that the workloads of many non-teaching staff have increased significantly.

Helping one group to improve at the expense of another is not good. Heavy workloads can lead to ill-health, poor staff motivation and a host of other problems. If you work in a school where administrators are over-burdened, then consider the impact the workload issue is likely to have on morale.

How long can such a situation last? If administrators leave and can't be replaced because no one wants their jobs, who will do their work?

What are managers doing to tackle the long hours culture?

More and more people in Britain, including teachers, are working longer hours. Many schools have developed a long-hours culture where the expectation is that people arrive early and leave late. Expectations that staff will be in school from dawn to dusk encourage people to focus on the wrong things: being present rather than achieving successes.

Do senior managers accept that teachers have interests outside work which sometimes take precedence over school issues? Is there a commitment to help teachers to limit the number of hours they work? Are there limits to the number of after-school meetings teachers attend? Do these meetings end at set times? Are teachers encouraged to go home because they have done enough?

What are managers in school doing about flexible working?

This issue is at the heart of most work-life balance strategies, so it needs to be on the agenda in every school. What most people want is the opportunity to vary the times when they start and finish work, or to work from home some days. They might also want work compressed working hours, for example, nine-day fortnights or a reduction in the number of hours they work either temporarily or permanently.

The Government is encouraging flexible working via new legislation and some headteachers have already accepted staff requests to change working patterns. Find out what is happening in your school. Is flexible working being taken seriously? Are staff making requests to work flexi-time? How are such requests being received by senior managers and by governors? If people have not yet asked about these new rights, it is only a matter of time before they do. A school needs to know where it stands on this issue.

What are you doing about it?

The acid test is: do you feel in control of your life? Are you able to fit in the important things in your work and your time outside? Are your aspirations realistic? What are the expectations of your school? Are both sets compatible? Work-life balance is about more than relinquishing routine administrative and clerical tasks. It is about your whole approach to life.

Asking these questions may help when you are making important job decisions. If you are asking them, then you are in good company. The Government, growing numbers of employers and many people at work are now taking an interest in this important agenda. As a result, the world of work is changing, so look out for changes in school or when you change schools.

You could be in for a surprise.

Margaret Adams is the author of 'The Work-Life Balance Trainer's Manual'

(Gower, 2003, pound;250)

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