It may come as little surprise that a whopping 72% of educational professionals are stressed. A slightly higher number (74%) highlighted an inability to switch off from work as a key factor underpinning a negative work/life balance.
Another survey found that more than three-quarters of University and College Union (UCU) members either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I find my job stressful”. Teaching is far from alone in this regard considering that one in three people of working age experience stress, anxiety or depression.
Education Support’s 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index found that for 71% of educational professionals, the workload was the prime reason that made them consider their position.
The situation is not all doom and gloom by any stretch. There is a range of resources available to help further education teachers deal with stress. Such studies are important to identify areas that require improvement. As the UCU’s National Head of Further Education, Barry Lovejoy, explained: “UCU has identified addressing the problem of excessive workloads as a key priority for union activity.”
Joint general secretary of the National Education Union Dr. Mary Bousted has highlighted the EFFECTIVE EDUCATION project as being a key tool for helping FE teachers “achieve sustainable workloads”.
There are clear signs that the stigma of mental health is being successfully challenged in the UK. Research has shown that best practice can be achieved when FE staff liaise closely with health agencies. Putting an emphasis on wellbeing on college’s development plans has been proven to work as has placing it on the agenda in meetings.
A total of 36,000 cases of stress-related ill health affect the FE sector in the UK every year. As a result, the Stress Management Standards were created to combat stress in the sector. They focus on effective assessment and monitoring to reduce or remove stress triggers.
The first step is to prepare your organisation, followed by securing commitments from senior management. Six risk areas then need to be identified:
· Demands (workload and work environment)
· Control (how much of a voice a teacher has)
· Support (encouragement within the organisation)
· Relationships (with colleagues and students)
· Role (understanding the specific role)
· Change (how is it managed)
This is then followed by data gathering when it is decided who might be at risk of harm and how. The risks need to be evaluated and findings recorded. Finally, the monitoring and review stage will enable change to take place. Bilborough College introduced Stress Management Standards to improve staff welfare. This resulted in a raft of measures being introduced, including improved flexible working policy and consultation around the timetable. This example underlines the positive impact that Stress Management Standards can have in the FE sector.
A toolkit is available from the UCU that is designed to combat stress in the FE workplace. One element of the toolkit found that in terms of the Stress Management Standards’ six areas, demands on FE employees were rated at an average of 2.34, with low wellbeing being 1 and high wellbeing 5. Control over the workplace was 2.87 and manager’s support came in at 2.85. Support was a little higher at 3.31, relationships were 3.44 and role was 3.63. Change at work was rated at a lowly 2.23. The survey highlighted that there are still huge strides that need to be made when tackling stress among FE teachers.
The Association of College’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Charter was launched in May 2019 and represents a positive move forward. The charter is an overt expression of a college’s commitment to the mental health agenda.
Encouraging words from Association of Colleges Deputy Chief Executive Kirsti Lord support the rollout of the charter: “The charter gives them the chance to publicly state their commitment to that, to provide relevant information and training, and to create an inclusive college ethos which is respectful of those with mental ill health.”
Lord explains that the charter can provide the impetus for the cultural shifts that are needed in colleges to create successful wellbeing initiatives.
Ben Amponsah outlines seven strategies that teachers can use to manage anxiety.
1) Manage worries. Writing them down can be beneficial and enable teachers to problem solve.
2) Manage information. Loading up on news and current affairs can be overwhelming, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
3) Communicate with friends and families. Talk through problems and limit the conversations that increase anxiety.
4) Shift perspective. Become aware of negative thinking and analyse it.
5) Initiate a routine to tackle loneliness. A routine can prevent bad habits from creeping in.
6) Manage relationships. Anticipate conflict and work out a strategy to manage it.
7) Be accepting of uncertainty. Remember that it is ok to feel sad and angry sometimes.
The NHS Every Mind Matters campaign also offers some useful tips to cope with anxiety.
A five areas diagram can be helpful to aid FE teachers when examining their anxiety.
Tips to improve work-life balance include good time management, being assertive and learning how to say “no”.
An array of mental health resources for FE sector staff are available here.
A more extensive list of useful resources can be found on the Association of Colleges website, available here.