Julian Stanley, CEO, the Education Support Partnership

It’s often said the number one reason staff leave their job is not the salary, the terms and conditions, the holidays, the commute or irritation with colleagues. It’s because they feel under appreciated.

One of the reasons for this could be that in this country we don’t have a very good record of training people for management. Instead management of a team is added to a job as part of a promotion. So if you’re perceived to be good enough at your job to rise through the ranks, at some point you’re almost definitely going to be leading a team.

Managers are often in an invidious position. They have to manage staff - often with no direct training to do so - and they have to manage the expectations of those who made them managers. Heads of departments and other managers can often feel unloved, getting pressure from below and above.

At the Education Support Partnership we have a helpline for education staff facing stress at work and we hear a lot from college leaders about pressure coming at them from all sides.

helpline poster

So with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focusing on workplace stress I want to make it clear that as a charity which directly supports everyone working in FE we’re always open to calls from leaders as well all education staff.

I want to focus on managers and their needs as they are often a somewhat neglected group. Since the key to recruitment and retention in all industries is appreciation of staff I think it’s time we recognised that managers need to be appreciated too. I also want to give permission to managers to think about their own needs and not just everyone else’s.

Managers are often unloved and may even expect to be. They have to carry out the wishes of the organisation, produce results, hit targets so they need to be driven and highly motivated. They are held responsible for results and many managerial posts in FE are highly results driven.

However managers are also the first port of call for staff with issues that need resolving. It’s a fine balancing act and many people on being promoted to a managerial position can find it tough going when they have to lead and inspire their staff.

Leading can be the nicer part of the job but it gets a great deal harder when new managers also have to discipline, take action, issue warnings to staff. And perhaps the toughest task of all - be the referee when colleagues have a disagreement.

Our helpline counsellors often hear from education leaders that they feel pressure from above and below and not much sympathy from either!

There is also pressure from parents too and even employers where students are placed for work experience as part of their course. It’s a massive balancing act and small wonder many managers in FE struggle with it. It’s entirely understandable.

Being a good manager and promoting wellbeing at work is not just about being nice to people. It’s much more complicated than that. Staff raising concerns and very real issues they have about their work should be meat and drink for managers who want their departments and organisations to run smoothly.

This should include managers learning to take care of their needs too. This is why we have Headspace and Yourspace which are confidential, personal and professional development programmes to help leaders develop their performance as senior leaders and deputies.

While managers wait to go on courses for their own professional development – which we strongly recommend they do - there are a few things they can do in the meantime to improve their performance at work, aid retention, encourage recruitment and run as smooth a ship as they can.

  • Show appreciation to staff - don’t just criticise, emphasis the positive
  • Have an open door policy and make it clear staff can bring issues to you
  • Take care of yourself - you can’t carry others if you’re not feeling strong
  • Remember people aren’t machines, treat everyone individually
  • Find out people’s birthdays and make a note of them. A simple happy birthday email can feel very appreciative and caring
  • Take the time and trouble to find out what, if any, personal circumstances could affect your staff such as having elderly parents or a spouse to care for
  • Accept that your job now includes a duty of care to others
  • Make sure staff get every encouragement to take professional development courses
  • Recognise appraisals should always be a two-way street
  • Encourage your staff to call the Education Support Partnership helpline if they are in distress. Emphasise it’s a strength, not a weakness, to ask for help. We all need a bit of help at some point in our lives. None of us are an island.

Our many years of experience has informed us about how leaders in education need the time and space to build up their own resilience, personal and professional effectiveness so they can meet the constant demands of the job.

Julian Stanley, CEO, the Education Support Partnership

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