‘There are doughnuts in the staff room…’
The usual beckoning cry on a Friday morning or after a particularly stressful time in any workplace. They taste sweet. The rush of sugar releases dopamine to allow the consumer to momentarily feel good; offering a spring in the step and a smile on the face – boosting morale and well-being. The confirmation of hard work.
However, when the staffroom empties, sticky crumbs litter the floor and the, once neat, pile of napkins now ruffled and creased, the work will continue and the smile may soon fade. Like most sugary treats, the impact is temporary, a brief rush and, if eaten too often, the required impact will lessen and become ineffective; losing it’s appeal. All of a sudden, no one is keen on doughnuts anymore.
Of course, this post isn’t about the dangers of sugary snacks; encouraging all who read to swiftly turn to a plant-based diet and forever dodge the staff room Jammy Dodgers*. Alas, no, this is about well-being, the perception of what it constitutes and, hopefully, offering an implementational structure to support its sustained impact within our schools.
It’s time to reposition the doughnuts
As leaders, the concept of well-being is one we have become used to and, importantly, has been placed centre stage within our work of school improvement. As referenced in the latest Ofsted Inspection Framework for schools, not only should it be front and centre when responding to our thinking around workload but it should be there in every strand of our decision making if we really want to make a difference to our staff and the cultures we create.
leaders engage with their staff and are aware and take account of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way that they manage staff, including their workloadThe Education Inspection Framework May 2019 – Page 11
Of course, the necessity to implement or develop a culture of well-being can sometimes be misinterpreted. With the pressure to be seen making the schools we work in a better place, we can mistakingly see it as an element of school improvement that can be applied retrospectively on existing and historic systems, policies and procedures. Unfortunately, this cultural retro-fit, normally takes the immediate form of tokenistic goodwill gestures; cakes on Friday, strategically placed bowls of potpourri in the staffroom, the occasional appearance of a 17 year old from the local college who is keen to develop their acrylic nail skills on willing members of school staff, a greater collection of pot plants, free tea bags, lunchtime yoga and, of course, doughnuts on a Friday. The gestures of confirmation.
Without doubt, all of these gestures contribute to a sense of well-being. Confirmation of hard work and toil; uniting and supporting team morale, raising spirits and, without doubt, creating a feel good factor across any staff team. However the culture we create through this, unfortunately isn’t long-lasting.
Through these gestures, it may possibly only serve to confirm to others that, as leaders, we haven’t got things quite right. That the workplace cultures we may have created, not yet changed, or have historically been in place for many years, aren’t effectively supporting our wider staff teams. The action of ‘gestures’ creates a culture of confirmative well-being. The act of confirming employees hard work and the presence of possibly difficult structures with momentary, visible gifts of acknowledgment.
Furthermore, constantly confirming fluctuating levels of morale, the imbalance of workload and overburdened staff with short-lived gestures and tokens of thanks will soon lose impact, especially if we don’t acknowledge the reasons why we need to offer the sweet treat of recognition in the first place.
Through maintaining this modus operandi, we cover the cracks and may never really take the time to address the challenges our staff face. In many ways, we are publicly confirming there are problems in our organisations but never really considering how best to fix them.
With all this in mind, without doubt, all organisations will go through challenges which are completely out of their control. The current national situation we are facing is a prime example of the extraordinary and its stressful impact on our establishments and the staff within them. In these incidences, confirmative well-being is required in abundance. The necessity to confirm and recognise the hard work of all employees within adversity needs to be ever-present, highly visible, punctual, well-considered and, most importantly, overwhelmingly humane and personal – timely and positively responsive well-being in action wins outright in these situations. Humanity must prevails.
Nevertheless, when these times hopefully pass, we will soon return to a new normal to were greater consideration will be needed to ensure sustained, deep-rooted and systematic well-being is in place for all. The opportunity to rebuild and reestablish is now or, very soon, on the horizon.
Building the foundations
“Time is the longest distance between two places.”Tennessee Williams
Please note, this article isn’t about removing a level of confirmative well-being – the staffroom treats and yoga session at lunchtime – but places them within a structure to ensure they are strengthened. By adding several layers below confirmative actions; we can start to guarantee whatever we use to recognise our staff is of value and, importantly, understood by all; promoting a value system that is intrinsic to the wider organisational culture rather than gestures of superficiality.
Real cultural well-being isn’t something that can happen over night. It can’t be switched on. It’s a culture that needs to be nurtured; allowing for growth across all areas over time. Rome and all that…
Creating this culture, it must sit centrally within the wider organisational structures, policies and procedures that underpin the operational models of our organisations. Applying any of the above, without considering the impact on staff, may only lend itself to a negative return or weakened responses from those we are trying to support.
Before we consider the confirmative elements of wellbeing, I propose four key organisational characteristics that need to be in place support the latter.
Once all of these are interwoven within our leadership planning, a real culture of well-being can begin to take shape, grow and, in time, flourish. Using an existing visual model, we can begin to the see the order of application; understanding how these four layers support one each other.
Before we get to confirmation
Layer 1: Consultation
Talking with staff, considering and discussing what’s working and what isn’t is key to understanding the current feeling across any team.
As leaders, we must always reflect on our decisions, consider their impact and, importantly, respond in a timely manner should they have affected negatively within the the wider culture of the school. Furthermore, discussing the journey forward and the steps we need to take allows staff to feel a part of the journey. Even if it doesn’t go as planned, wildly off course, or it runs out of petrol along way, sharing the roadmap and directions is crucial to all staff feeling consulted; sharing the reason why we needed to start the journey in the first place; eliminating the view that we were reckless in our driving and we were holding the staff in the backseat wondering why they were even in the car.
Layer 2: Communication
Once we have consulted, the manner in which we communicate across our organisation is, again, crucial in strengthen the culture of well-being. Choosing what we communicate and how we communicate to our employees is central to ensuring that any key messages, news and updates is always well-timed and transmitted effectively. Naturally, we all aim to inform staff before any changes take place, but if this communication is received at 4:32am on the day before the action needs to be completed the impact is astoundingly negative.
When gathering views from staff, typically the improvement of communication is alway something that is common to most organisations. Not enough people knowing about updates, or the time in which the communication took place was either too late or too early for staff to act effectively.
The majority of people within all types organisation want to do well, to feel fulfilled and, crucially, want to demonstrate that they can deliver the fundamental elements of their role to those around them. If , as leaders, we don’t communicate clearly the what, the how, the why and, importantly, the when in our communication, we can’t expect tasks to be completed as or when we have planned. Ensure that you set time for clear communication, agree with your staff what it constitutes and, without doubt, set the boundaries for when it takes place.
Layer 3: Clarification
For staff to feel successful, their roles need to be clearly defined, organised and visible with organisational structure.
There is no denying that there is significant comfort in knowing what is expected when you arrive to work, how you need to achieve your role and the time you need to achieve it. Furthermore, where you will achieve it, who you have to achieve it with and, crucially, what achievement looks like. For most people, understanding what is expected in their role is key to their well-being.
Attending work shouldn’t be full of surprises and unknowns, no-one should be wrong footed, tripped up, chucked in a black hole or, even worse, left without the clear guidance and support in understanding their varying roles within the school.
As much as we have to deal with the ever-changing goalposts of education, it’s important to protect our staff from uncertainty; following the first three layers to ensure our teams are protected, supported and able to complete their duties effectively, giving clarification at every step. It makes a difference.
Layer 4: Cultivation
Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.Richard Branson
Growing and developing good practice, providing opportunities for progression, developing our staff with quality CPD, transparent performance management structures and allowing staff to explore their interest within their role, offers a strong starting point to develop clear strands of cultivation. To develop a garden of wonderful flowers and plants, each element needs the right conditions to flourish and grow to their fullest potential. From NQTs to those within leadership, all staff need to be cultivated and nurtured within each stage of their careers. Without water, all plants will wither over time.
Confirmation before consultation
Applying the structure in reverse, we create a culture based on short-lived gestures. The weight of the other, more critical layers, held up precariously by short lived responses; ready to topple and, quite possibly, create more significant systematic and cultural problems to fix at a later point or add to a growing list of others. An unnecessary and time consuming distraction to our real purpose of improving outcomes of the children within our schools.
Once this toppling has occurred, the additional weight of each layers will never be sustained based on the rather small, and somewhat more vulnerable, superficial layer at the base of the pyramid. ‘Doughnuts’ can’t eradicate poor organisational communication, ambiguous clarification of roles and responsibilities, problematic communication leading to errors and system failure, inadequate professional development, and it never makes up for, the first and most important layer, direct consultation between all staff within any organisation.
That said, never forget that doughnuts do have a place. They belong, need to be given to staff and enjoyed by all. Placed in the staff room, offices, corridors and classrooms of all our schools. Munched, chewed, nibbled, champed and chomped every day of the week.
However, if this is the only diet to feed well-being, be advised, the taste won’t last for long and the stomach ache will soon set in.
*other biscuits are available.