Staff Wellbeing - Top tips for all education staff returning to school on 8th March
Our working lives were changed enormously when lockdown started. As lockdown eases, our working lives will change again. We may have a lot of mixed feelings about coming back to work – it may be exciting and something we’ve wished for or we may be angry that we are being forced back too fast. We may be worried about public transport and social distancing on the job. We may be angry or frustrated with the guidelines available from the government for education. It may be that the circumstances of our work cause us anxiety or frustration– especially if other people’s choices or behaviours increase our risk of catching the virus. Whilst we are concerned about the student’s mental health and wellbeing, it is so important that staff feel they are also supported and have support for their own mental health. At Ormesby, we are here to support you throughout your return and the MHWB team is here for not only students but staff as well. We also have access to the Education Assistance Program and there is a free education support hotline open 24/7 if you would prefer to speak to someone outside of the workplace.
Here are some top tips to an ensure a comfortable return to work:
Talk about your worries
It's normal to feel a bit worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember: it is OK to share your concerns with others you trust – and doing so may help them too. If you cannot speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, there are plenty of helplines you can try instead. Helplines information - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
Read reputable sources and follow official advice from:
Try not to worry about something you have read on social media or unreputable sources e.g. Daily Mail/Sun etc. Focus on the facts and what’s in your control to change as this can really become overwhelming.
Talk to your department
Make sure that when you come back you are talking to people. This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your department. Working from home can be isolating and lonely and to suddenly come back to lots of people is overwhelming but remember people will understand this if you speak to them. Try to be honest, and start by acknowledging the uncertainty and the stress it causes. Be prepared to say that you don't know and that you will come back to people with answers.
This is important whether people are in the workplace or at home. Make sure that alongside regular communication with other staff, you also communicate with line managers, HR and SLT if there is something worrying you.
Everyone has mental health - consider the impact this has across the board
We all have mental health, and whatever our circumstance this outbreak is going to have an impact on how we think and feel about ourselves and the world we live in. Good work is great for our mental health and it's important that we preserve the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of work wherever we can. Remember students will feel the same about returning and try to enjoy the reason you became a teacher. Enjoy the time we have in school and overcoming the challenges we face daily.
Remember vulnerability has many faces
There is a lot of talk of physical vulnerabilities in relation to COVID. But SLT will feel vulnerable too in demonstrating leadership in unusual circumstances. Help each other stay composed by encouraging and reminding how good a job they’re doing. Remember all staff, no matter what your job is in school, teaching, TA, SLT, admin, site team, everyone is experiencing the same pandemic and whilst we may not all have the same feelings or thoughts, make sure you check up on everyone regardless of their role in school.
This can be a particularly difficult time for people with pre-existing or past mental health problems. Staying at home may be bringing back memories of bad times to people who have experienced depression or trauma. Know your people and do a little extra for those who are more vulnerable if you notice changes in their behaviour. These circumstances might lead people to disclose mental health problems they have previously not discussed at work. Treat new disclosures with respect and compassion and make adjustments.
Access to support
There is support available through the Employee Assistance Programme - this support provides confidential emotional support and counselling available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (up to five sessions of face-to-face or telephone counselling), access to online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), management consultation to support those responsible for managing others, specialist information on work-life balance, financial and legal information and information on local services such as elder care and childcare. As always, your line manager, SLT or the MHWB Team are there to support you whatever you are going through. Alternatively, there is lots of support via the NHS using the helplines attached.
Use technology for work and social aspects of work
Encourage people to maintain informal conversations too if they are at school. You could also try socially distanced lunches and coffee chats at school. Regular check-ins with your department are a good idea. In Humanities, we try to regularly do an online quiz to keep ourselves social and connecting with each other.
Remember to get enough sleep
Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how we feel mentally and physically, so it's important to get enough. Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep up good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine and creating a restful environment. See the NHS sleep page for more advice.
Encourage self care and exercise
Our physical health has a big impact on how we feel. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour that end up making you feel worse. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water and exercise regularly. Avoid smoking, or drinking too much alcohol. If you are staying at home, you could try exercising indoors, as there are lots of free online classes. Or try an easy 10-minute home workout. If we are feeling worried, anxious, lonely or low, we may stop doing things we usually enjoy. Make an effort to focus on your favourite hobby if it is something you can still do at home. Or start a new hobby: read, write, do crosswords or jigsaws, bake, or try drawing and painting. Whatever it is, find something that works for you. You can still stay social at home by joining others online: book clubs, pub quizzes and music concerts are just a few of the things to try. This can help with difficult emotions and worries, and improve our wellbeing. Relaxation techniques can also help deal with feelings of anxiety.
And remember to give yourself the same care that you give to others. You do not have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent and live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it.