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Burnout in Education

Remember the last time you misplaced your car keys 🔑, frantically running around the house knowing you were going to be late for that all-important meeting.

You keep looking.

Trying to remember where you last had them, retracing your steps from the car to the house and then from opening your door to walking around the house.

Which rooms did I go in?

You look and look, then panic sets in and you don’t seem to be able to find them.

Just as you’re resigned to the fact that they are lost. You start to calm down.

Suddenly you remember where they are, you rush to grab them and you do the happy dance telling yourself you knew where they were all along. 😉

All the time you were looking in the wrong direction until you had that moment of clarity.

Well, this is akin to the current ‘workplace wellbeing’ problem.

Many organisations are frantically looking in the wrong places and need a moment of calm to start looking in the right ones. Let’s also be honest some just don’t want to look there at all.


Chair Massage

Team socials

The bake-off

Free Gym Memberships

Great, though well-meaning, the issue is these are all band-aid solutions to bigger problems and often implemented in a reactive manner to address ‘wellbeing.’ Here are some of the real issues:

Poor remuneration

Lack of perceived fairness

Lack of meaning

Lack of autonomy

Poor management

Inadequate Policy

Workload issues

Poor Communication

Over-qualified workers

The elephant in the room really is that many of the issues above are at the crux of poor organisational and workplace wellbeing. Yes, there are more, but, the list only gets longer.

We’ve been looking in the wrong direction for a while. Trying to find our ‘keys’ in all the wrong places.

Don’t get me wrong the chair massages, team socials and bake-offs have their place but they aren’t going to reduce employee burnout, improve the sense of fairness or reduce workload.

In fact, one person said to me ‘why would I want a chair massage, I’ll just be sitting there thinking of all the sh*t I need to do and not getting any of it done. Then my boss will be asking, why haven’t you got this done on time and I’ll be saying - because I was having a chair massage.

No thanks - not for me.’

The teaching profession as a whole is experiencing high levels of burnout and a recent report suggested that ~70% of teachers in the UK have a perception that workload is unsustainable.

We have to stop looking in the wrong direction.

Burnout, teachers leaving the industry and teacher dropout rates from placements are huge. While the pandemic hasn’t helped it has been trending in that direction for a while.

If you ask the question - what do you do to support staff health and wellbeing?

We hear thing’s like ‘we do yoga classes, we do bake-offs and we do mindfulness.’

If I ask - what do you measure?

“We have a survey that goes out once per year and we had some interesting points from that.”

Then I ask - ok so what did you implement off the back of that.

The answer is often ‘a um nothing.’

It’s not those individuals fault. Chances are they are doing their best and as senior leaders, it’s likely their workload is very high as well. So implementing initiatives is a real challenge.

So often people genuinely want to help their people but honestly don’t have the time or energy to start to implement an effective strategy.

Leaders in organisations often barely have time to go to the toilet and sometimes that’s the only peace and quiet they get during a jam-packed day.

We’ve also heard organisations want to make changes but are scared to get Human Resources involved. Ownership needs to start at a senior management level and a collaborative approach needs to happen from the very start - remember the buzz words - Whole School/College Approach to Wellbeing.

The issue of workplace burnout right now is akin to you starting a large fire at home and trying to put it out yourself. You’d be better off calling the fire brigade before your entire house burns down as there is no way of you getting enough water on it on your own.

This is where there needs to be more funding and support for organisations in education to get started with measuring wellbeing in the first place and bring onboard support.

Evidence-based interventions are key, coaching in our experience seems to help, however, this needs to happen at a senior leadership level first and requires a huge amount of vulnerability.

In our opinion, we should be looking at implementation in the following order:

1. Leaders, Health and Safety and HR taking a collaborative approach with key measurements and evaluation happening regularly. Implementation of new policies and procedures that address organisational wellbeing, through transparent data-driven actions

2. Leader coaching, education and support in and around wellbeing issues e.g. mental health first aid, positive psychology, coaching

3. Staff educational programs/CPD around evidence-based modalities

4. Curriculum embedding - across the school or college

5. Cherries on top - yoga, mindfulness, bake off’s, free gym, challenges etc.

The key to all of this is through meaningful qualitative and quantitative data analysis and transparent discussion. Where time is an issue look to get an organisation involved to support you with adequate data collection to create clear discussion points.

It’s great to have health and wellbeing top of the agenda for your 5-year plan but inaction could have an even bigger impact not just on teachers but our next generation as the world becomes more volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous (VUCA.)

Now is the time to be proactive.

Lot’s of teachers and leaders in education say to me it’s all about the students.

While it may all be about the students, how about flipping the narrative to realise the students are often a direct reflection of their environments, role models and experiences. Teachers should be first, for that very reason.

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