Jane Walton, Education Policy Chair, FSB

Owning and running a business can be hugely rewarding. However, it brings with it demands, responsibilities and risks that can bring personal pressures which can impact a person’s health and wellbeing. When your business is teaching then the additional demands of government agenda, organisational processes and needs of students can be overwhelming.

The Federation of Small Businesses recognises the role Further Education colleges play in developing a skilled workforce, supporting the next generation of employees and helping to upskill and reskill those in employment. As a former FE teacher, college governor and current enterprise educator, I understand the day-to-day pressures of planning, teaching and assessments that can lead to increased levels of stress and ill-health.

Promoting good wellbeing in the workplace can help increase our productivity, improve performance and reduce absenteeism. There is a clear business case that the benefits are felt just as much in our health as individuals, but also by our communities and the wider economy. Research shows poor mental health in the workplace is widespread with around half (48%) of people saying they have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. A culture which recognises the impact that health and wellbeing has on someone’s effectiveness and ability to perform needs to be supported by providing the opportunity for staff and students to ask for help and to access support services when needed.

At FSB we have our own mental health and wellbeing hub which is a central location for information and practical advice for those looking to improve their own wellbeing or that of their employees.

Business owners have a crucial role to play in starting the conversation about mental health in the workplace. They need to lead the way in both destigmatising mental health and acting to help members of our team when they are struggling. There’s never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach and not every idea will work for every employer.

A survey by the UCU (University and College Union) in 2014 found that a significant number of respondents cited graded lesson observations as a major cause of stress and anxiety. Having recently been observed under the new OFSTED framework I am pleased to report that the emphasis was much more on whether I felt supported by management through CPD and consideration of my workload in order to teach effectively. The recognition that the context of teaching is as important as the content supports the need for health and well-being to be a strategic priority.

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When it comes to successfully and sensitively managing stress in the workplace, it requires different abilities from the employer. Key to this are the need to motivate staff, ensure a support network is in place and providing flexibility where it is required. Small changes can be significant ones too. Always ask yourself if you are sending emails outside of working hours? Have you introduced mental health first aid to all staff? And is mental health and wellbeing part of your health and safety strategy?

In recent times, there has been an increasing emphasis on the need to implement stronger safeguards in the workplace to provide a safety net for staff. This involves creating greater awareness of the signs of symptoms of poor mental health.

Mental health is a huge challenge for everyone in society. Which is why Government, business owners, communities as well as individuals must work together to destigmatise mental health and help to foster an open environment which invites people to feel comfortable to talk about mental health.

Jane Walton, Education Policy Chair, FSB

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