Are you ready to talk?
We all know that mental health is a hot topic right now, even the Royal family are talking about it. Naturally, I’m a huge advocate for breaking down the boundaries of this once taboo subject. However I can’t help noticing, despite all the lip service paid to the topic and the well documented cost poor employee wellbeing has on industry, that very few schools are actually taking effective steps towards creating an open culture so that mental health matters just as much as physical health.
I suspect this is a subject that has the potential to become a problem employers are forced to start dealing with in a much more progressive way in the wake of the Prime Minister’s commission to Lord Dennis Stevenson, (campaigner for mental health reform) and Paul Farmer, (Chief executive, Mind) to carry out an independent review into how employers can better support their employees. The report has rather unsurprisingly found that the UK is facing a much larger mental health challenge than we realised and guess what, the cost to society is staggering! They have estimated the cost on business alone, at a whopping £33-44 billion and have made some good suggestions as to their vision of what’s required in order to create a positive and progressive culture towards mental health in the workplace.
It is really important to create a culture of openness in every workplace, especially in a school and creating that environment is actually very easy to do. There are lots of tips and advice offered online but, in my experience, there are four simple steps, which prove to be most effective:
Create a mental health policy: A considered, and well-written policy sends the message that it’s ok to not be ok, and that your school is there to support staff during times of need. It’s also good to point out that mental health matters will be treated in confidence and with the same level of respect and consideration as physical health.
Training: Bringing in an external provider to carry out a mental health training course is probably one of the most effective ways of helping staff. Not only does it send a clear message to your teachers and other staff that you care, it can also have a positive effect on your school by reducing absenteeism and improving staff motivation. A good training course will take your staff and school leaders through methodology to maintaining good mental health, managing stress and how to recognise the symptoms early on allowing you to support your employees before the situation escalates. School leaders need to know how to best support their team members who are struggling.
Create a healthy work life balance: Trust me on this one, do it right and it will pay dividends… Teachers who take time to recharge their batteries are happier, healthier, more focused and effective. To create the right culture, you must lead by example and it must come from the top down. Set boundaries; make it clear that you don’t want to see anyone in school after or before a certain time. Insist everyone leaves on time on Fridays to make the most of their precious weekends. Ban emails between 7pm and 7am and don’t allow anyone to contact a member of staff when they are on annual leave. Make sure staff actually take a break during their much-needed holidays and actively encourage staff to take a break and get some fresh air at lunchtime.