For many people, work is a huge part of their lives because it’s the one place where they spend most of their time. On top of this, working in education can take a toll on mental health and this has been more evident since the start of the pandemic. In a recent survey of 1097 teachers and support staff, we discovered:
- 48% said that Covid has had a negative impact on their mental health
- 44% don’t feel comfortable speaking up about their wellbeing at work without the worry of reprisal or stigma
- 43% feel that there are not enough support structures offered by their employer to help them with positive health and wellbeing
As an employer, there are many ways you can support the mental health of your employees and that starts with opening up the conversation. Whilst Covid has turned our worlds upside down, the silver lining is that it’s highlighted the need and importance of addressing mental health at work. For some, this can be a bit of an uncomfortable task especially if you’ve never done it before so we’ve listed a few practical steps you can take to let your employees know that you are looking out for their mental health.
Check in with employees.
Carry out informal meetings to check in with your employees on a regular basis. Go beyond asking ‘how are you’ without being overbearing or pushing them to disclose how they feel. If they do open up, listen and engage non-judgmentally, be compassionate, help identify potential stressors and offer support. Over time, this will help you build trusted relationships with your employees and you will likely become more alert to shifts in their mood because you’ve taken the time to get to know them better. For example, if you notice someone who is usually quite chatty and bubbly withdrawing from conversations, this might indicate that something is wrong.
Have an open door policy.
An open door policy enables your employees to approach you and talk about something that is causing them stress and/or affecting their mental health without the worry of being judged. It’s down to you to create a supportive environment and let your employees know that you are available to schedule a chat whenever they need it, whether that’s face-to-face or virtually. Following on from the point above about checking in, you might find this actually helps to facilitate your open door policy because your employees trust you more.
Create a wellbeing toolkit.
A wellbeing toolkit is extremely useful as it can be used for both prevention and management of stress and mental wellbeing. The overall idea is to equip employees with strategies to cope with the pressure of working in education, develop skills such as resilience and signpost free resources or professional support. Your wellbeing toolkit can contain whatever your employees need so it might be worth carrying out a survey to ask them. As an example, at Randstad, we provide all employees access to a 24/7 mental health helpline. For further information on wellbeing toolkits, check out Mental Health At Work.
Create peer support channels.
Even with regular check ins and an open door policy, the reality is not all employees will want to talk to you about their mental health. They might prefer to confide with fellow colleagues who are likely to have similar experiences and potentially a better understanding of how they’re feeling. Of course, employees can communicate with each other without the need for you to facilitate this but having work specific peer support channels will ensure that you’re sending across the message that it’s ok to talk about mental health and be there for one another at work. A peer support channel could be in the form of a face-to-face monthly support group or an online group chat.
Creating a mentally healthy environment at work is not a luxury, it’s an expectation. It can feel daunting not knowing where to start but remember even the smallest changes can make a big difference and go a long way in helping teachers and support staff who may be struggling.