Workplace wellbeing in need of some TLC

In just about every school community, teacher and support staff wellbeing has become a compliance box to be ticked, something bandied around once a term, a reminder to staff that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential counselling.

But the primary and almost sole focus, that of the wellbeing of children, swamps teachers with data walls and collection, growth points and Compass submissions. The fact that the EAP is the only significant support staff are offered, when most of our schools are supposed to be based around pastoral care and faith, indicates the dire need for change.

The welfare of teachers and support staff should go beyond EAP services. The barriers to providing a positive work environment, when we’ve been all but stripped of professional and personal autonomy, is demoralising the teaching profession.

It’s ironic that the wellbeing of employees working within the Christian ethos, which devotes itself to the wellbeing of souls, is sometimes lost amid the quagmire of curriculum and compliance. Last year saw staff working remotely and at school, with school leaders jettisoned into coping with a whole gamut of staff emotion, without themselves having the emotional intelligence or tools to do so.

Indeed, leadership in the 20th century paradigm is dying a slow and necessary death. The leadership model of the last century didn’t have frameworks which taught leaders about staff wellbeing (or their own, from that matter). After all, a school without workplace support can make everyone feel like the work environment is simply treading water.

Leaders and policy makers within education need to rethink policies, practices and school systems. The notion of data collection to reflect perpetual growth (sometimes at any cost) and dealing with change with simplified terms of reference no longer cuts the grade.

Leaders need to engage in honest conversations about work practices and wellbeing in the most tangible and human ways. If they do not, and if staff are unwilling and/or unable to speak and listen with them, we run the risk of falling back into practices that have already have failed.

Our policies and practices need to be human-centred, with children and learning as the prime purpose, but also with staff wellbeing alongside in their aims. Having real conversations, without fear of recrimination or accusation, can be much more potent than any online wellbeing project that few of us can afford the time to do.

It should be a core focus and not a check box, with trust, autonomy and kindness at its heart. The best way we can promote our profession is to believe that those within it have the tools, skills and support needed for a long and prosperous career, in workplaces where they feel valued.

Simon Goss
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Executive