From education to employment

Leader Wellbeing

Mark Solomons

The statistics are stark – according to Education Support’s ‘Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022’, 61% of FE staff ‘had actively sought to change or leave their current job’ with staff burnout cited as the major contributor. If leaders are to help turn this around, they must ensure they take care of their own wellbeing first – only then will they be capable of supporting the wellbeing of others.  

The stress level of many leaders is often extremely high – excessive workload and unrealistic expectations continue to be part of the system – and it’s a real challenge to effectively help staff and colleagues, in the midst of this struggle. Just as the pre-flight safety announcement instructs passengers to – adjust their own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs – to be effective, leaders must consider their own wellbeing first, to ensure they have the capacity to consistently support their team.

Often, the greatest source of stress is the amount of work to be done in the time available – or lack of it. Although this is often referred to as time management, in truth it’s impossible to ‘manage’ time. A better approach is to consider how you manage yourself and your energy.

The demand and impact on energy levels changes throughout the day, depending on workload, student behaviour, colleagues, satisfaction levels, deadlines, lack of flexibility and more. Recognising and understanding energy ‘supply and demand’ and its impact, can improve wellbeing and performance. People have different energy levels and respond differently to what is happening – so having a clear plan is key.

Four intelligence’s or factors affect our energy levels:

  • Body – Physical Intelligence/Quotient (PQ), at the most basic level this provides the quantity of energy, which is dependent on hydration, food, fitness (exercise) and sleep
  • Emotion – Emotional Intelligence/Quotient (EQ), is the quality of energy you have – energy levels are impacted when a person feels sad, annoyed, frustrated, or kind, happy and fulfilled.
  • Mind – Intelligent Quotient (IQ), provides focus – being guided by a plan and prioritising work increases productivity
  • Spirit – Spiritual Intelligence/Quotient (SQ), gives energy its power – having a clear vision or purpose helps to overcome challenges and deliver outcomes.

By changing our behaviours and actions, we can maintain a balance across these energies. Here are five tips to help leaders better manage their energy:

Don’t make emails the first thing you do each day

Switching on and hitting send/receive is likely to sabotageyour schedule. Instead of following your agenda, your focus may be scattered (Mind) and you run the risk of generating wasted energy (Emotion), such as anger, disappointment, frustration or feeling overwhelmed as you read through your inbox.

Start by completing your most important task(s) first. What tasks will have the greatest impact for yourself and others and what you are trying to achieve? Then move to the next most important. Sometimes these may be small wins finished in limited time – but by keeping focus, whatever the rest of the day brings, these have already been completed – providing a boost. Begin with high impact tasks that use low energy and try and complete each one before moving on.

Plan your availability

Chunk tasks and key actions together as much as possible, and block out time to avoid interruptions, as these add significantly to task completion time. It’s important to be available for staff but plan your availability and share the schedule. When the door is closed, you should only be called upon in an emergency.

Ensure you have breaks

While this is not always easy, even short breaks will improve motivation and performance. Make time to disengage from the challenges of the day – walk, listen to music, have a conversation, read, or just switch tasks. If you cover to ensure others have breaks, take time later. Being constantly engaged throughout the day is not sustainable.

Focus on what you can control

Anxiety about what may or may not happen, dissipates energy. Consider the facts not preconceptions, and work on what you want to achieve today. At the end of each day, reflect on everything you have achieved rather than focusing on jobs still left on the list.

Build an effective support team

Who you hang around with matters. Colleagues and friends who are positive and supportive, give energy, while negative ‘mood-hoovers’ drain it.

Leaders are often selfless, putting the needs of others – students, staff and parents – ahead of their own. However, to lead effectively, they need to put their own wellbeing first, to enable them to help others consistently and sustainably, consequently increasing the wellbeing of those around them. So always remember – adjust your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs.

By Mark Solomons, Author of ‘What makes teachers unhappy and what you can do about it’ , Founder and CEO of Welbee

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