The other week I have a discussion on wellbeing in schools with Mark Anderson as part of a recording for Tip Top Tips Edu; you can watch the recording here. The particular focus was on support staff such as Directors of IT, Network Managers and other IT support based roles. I therefore thought it would be useful to share some further thoughts from my discussion with Mark and also some thoughts that arose post discussion.
Wellbeing: What does your school do?
I think one of the first things to note is that wellbeing isn’t about events, such as an end of term staff event or offering yoga classes. These can help improve peoples wellbeing but wellbeing is more complex than a catalogue of events on offer.
Stress and Challenge
When we talk about stress we often jump to a negative conclusion, that stress isnt good. The reality is that stress, at least in my interpretation, can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. If it relates to an activity which is worthwhile, has some level of difficulty and includes some autonomy of decision making then this will likely cause stress, however it will be positive stress; it will represent a challenge. If, however it is not viewed as worthwhile, is busy work, includes monotony rather than autonomy and is too difficult to be achievable given available resources, then this will likely result in negative stress.
So, the question for leaders here is, do we ensure that there is meaning in what we ask our teams to do, do we provide the relevant autonomy, but also support and are we realistic and clear in our expectations of others?
Looking after yourself / Personal wellbeing
We also need to acknowledge that wellbeing for each of us is also a personal responsibility. Yes, our school has to provide an environment that supports and encourages our wellbeing, however equally we as individuals need to also support our own wellbeing. For each of us the methods of doing this is likely to be different. For me it is about reading, particularly reading non-fiction, and about physical exercise in the form of jogging (or maybe lumbering would be more appropriate in my case) and also about contributing back to the Edu world through blogs, etc. Some people may like gardening or cooking, two things I am pretty hopeless at. For others it might be long family walks. We each need to seek to find what works for us as individuals, as families, as friends, etc.
I often find myself coming back to the importance of balance. Too much of anything is bad for you and equally too little is often just as bad. Whether it is exercise, comfort foods, relaxation time, challenge and positive stress, family time, personal reflection time, or a multitude of other things, too little can have a negative impact as can too much. Its about finding the balance that works for you.
We also need to wrestle with the challenges of time; Often have I heard and even said that “I don’t have enough time.” Sadly this is a pointless cry as we will never have any more time than that which we have now (unless we master time travel of course 😉 ). There are 24hrs in the day and 7 days in the week. This isnt going to change. As such we need to accept that more time for a given task comes at the expense of less time for something else. And with this in mind we need to remain balanced; we cant simply keep providing more time to our work tasks as this will mean less time for our own personal growth and reflection, for family time, etc. And it is worth noting that in work, we often, as we seek to improve and develop, tend towards adding things, adding tasks, adding processes, adding checks and balances, and adding complexity, all which therefore require more time. Seldom do we seek to take things away; Adding, having more, doing more seems logically positive however in reality this can only be guaranteed where resources are limitless. In the real world where time is limited, everything we add which takes additional time and effort, takes away time and effort from something else.
On reflection, and a key thought, is that wellbeing isnt a thing or an endpoint. Wellbeing is a road or a process. It is ongoing and at times things your wellbeing will be challenged when all isnt going well and at other times your wellbeing will be good and all will be progressing as it should. The key is to find what works for you, to be concious of your wellbeing and to be concious of your actions and plans in relation to wellbeing.
So for a leader its about yourself as an individual but also about your team as a group; How can you support wellbeing for yourself but also for those you lead. As a team member its about yourself as an individual and also about your colleagues and how you can support one another. Overlayed on this, for those with families, there is the wellbeing of you spouse, your kids and your other family members.
Wellbeing isnt simple and I don’t think anyone has the answer. For me it links to organisational culture and climate, which are equally complex and slow to change. If anything, what matters most is that we are at least speaking about and it considering it more than we did in the past, and that’s a good start.