Does your wellbeing strategy add to your stress?

Does your wellbeing strategy add to your stress?

By Karen Amos

Are you working in education?  Are you feeling under pressure, stressed, or that your general wellbeing just isn't that great?  You probably already know this, but I'll say it anyway - you're not alone.  BUT WAIT!  Whatever happened to the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter?  After all, it was only launched in Autumn 2021 and who doesn't love a new initiative...?

Thinking back to my time in leadership roles in the public sector, the NHS in particular, I can remember that sinking feeling when yet another ‘initiative’ landed on my desk.  Not that they were always bad (although to be fair, some were shockers), but I recall that feeling of overwhelm, wondering where and how I could find the resources and time to actually implement this, without dropping another plate.

I’m not going to tell anyone working in education that they have a tough job.  That’s like telling a sheep it’s woolly.  There’s a degree of acceptance of an education professional's lot in working life – and by this I’m meaning everyone working in education, not just teachers - and to corrupt a song, 'a teacher's lot is not a happy one'.  The fact is the statistics make grim reading.

I don’t believe there’s anything to gain in playing misery ‘top trumps’ with other jobs and sectors.  This doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  Many sectors have huge issues with stress and burnout, each with its own particular issues and education is no exception.  The fact is however, that education does rank in the top 4 most stressful occupations in the UK. ¹

So here are some numbers:

  • 72% of education professionals described themselves as being ‘stressed’ in 2021 (84% of senior leaders)2
  • Unsurprisingly, this was up from an already high 64% in June 20202
  • 70% of Education staff (80% of senior leaders) who considered leaving the profession did so due to workload2
  • 54% considered leaving due to personal mental health and wellbeing2

I believe this is the tip of the iceberg and that the issue is significantly under-reported for many reasons.  If you have time, do check out the links below for more information.  (Short pause for you to laugh derisively at the word ‘time’…)

From a leadership view, I see there are two issues with wellbeing in the workplace. 

Firstly, there’s an ethical issue.  No-one should come to work and be made ill or unhappy.  That’s my mantra.  I have personal (negative) experience in this area.  We can all have a rubbish day from time to time, but if we’re accepting this as the norm, then something’s seriously broken.

Secondly, there’s the financial issue - and let’s face it, this is often the deal-breaker.  Few would argue against the ethics of having a healthier workplace and workforce.  The difficulty lies in implementing this – either though lack of time and resources, or simply the financial pressures of balancing already stretched budgets.

NB: Whilst there’s also a legal/compliance issue with wellbeing, I’d suggest this comes from a combination of ethical and financial (i.e. costs to the state) issues.

So, if the finances are the clincher, here are a few more stats:

  • 50% of all working days lost in the UK in 2020/21 were due to work-related ill health1
  • Education is one of the top 3 most stressful sectors in the UK 1
  • Poor mental health amongst employees costs £42–45 bn in the UK each year - This includes the costs of absence/presenteeism and turnover3
  • The cost of poor mental health to the UK education sector (and public purse) is estimated to be £1.1 – 1.5 bn per year3
  • This equates to £1203 - £1585 per education employee per year3

So what to do?

Whilst there’s lots everyone can do to improve wellbeing in education, it’s obvious there is no quick fix and I’ll be writing more extensively on this in future articles.  In the meantime however, we should take note of the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter4 , where it states that there are no expectations that ‘managers [will] provide professional wellbeing support for which they have no professional training.'  In short - you can't be all things to all people.

Instead, I suggest we should take a holistic view, rather than the traditional sticking-plaster approach.  This will take time and starts with building a wellbeing culture.  To do that we need to throw away any badges of honour that go with working ridiculous, impossible hours and begin meaningful conversations with those around us.  This means we have to be prepared to hear uncomfortable truths.  Additionally, it’s now time to check our own personal story - from one that talks about ‘overworked education professionals', to one that says ‘This is not acceptable’ and ‘I deserve more’.

  1. HSE – Work related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain - 2021
  2. Education Support – Teacher Wellbeing Index - 2021
  3. Deliotte – Mental Health and Employers – Refreshing the case for investment – Jan 2020
  4. The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter

If you would like to find out more about BrightBird's online Positive & Productive Wellbeing Programme, click HERE.

Down-to-earth, straight-talking support for you and your team to manage stress, build resilience and time management skills and develop a positive mindset.  Delivered at a time and pace to suit you.

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports education leaders and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and wellbeing. 

 


So you're a coach? That's like a football coach, right?

You’re a coach? That’s like a football coach, right?

By Karen Amos

‘You’re a coach?  What, like a football coach?’  This is a regular response when people find out what I do for a living – and to be honest, it’s not a million miles off the mark.

So here’s my latest attempt to de-mystify coaching…

Like a football coach? – Erm, yes, in that a football coach is there to maximise the performance of the players to build a successful team and win matches.  A good coach will help players maximise their strengths and recognise and overcome their weak areas.

So not like a football coach? – Well no – in that I don’t shout at people from the edge of a field in the cold and rain!  I also rarely wear a tracksuit for my work - Oh, and my knowledge of football is limited to knowing who Kevin Keegan is and that Gary Lineker likes crisps!

Actually the main distinction is that good coaching is all about supporting people to work it out for themselves.  This moves us from TELL – to – ASK.

Why not just give people the answer if they don’t know what to do?

Imagine you’re stuck – there’s a problem at work, maybe with a member of your team, or your work-life balance is going down the drain.  You meet up with your friend after work and they ask how you are.  ‘Terrible,’ you say, ‘The team aren’t meeting their goals and my boss is breathing down my neck and I’m shattered, but nowhere near getting to the bottom of my to-do list.’

‘Ah, you know what you need to do,’ says your friend in their best Harry Enfield impersonation, ‘You need to leave.  Give them your notice tomorrow and tell them you’re not putting up with it any more.’

I’m guessing most of us have been on the receiving end of that kind of conversation at some time.  Now think about what you feel like receiving this kind of ‘advice’.  Listened to and understood?  I doubt it.  Likely to follow the advice?  Usually not – I tend to find myself thinking, ‘what do you know about it?’ or variations on that theme and pull down my mental shutters ready to revel in a bit more self-imposed misery.

So let’s look at the coaching alternative.  We don’t tell, we ask.  Coaches dig down to what’s really going on – finding the root cause of the issue.  Let’s face it, without getting that right, everything else is a sticking plaster solution.  We then find out what the person actually does want.  When we’re experiencing a painful situation, we’re all really clear on what we don’t want, but often less clear on what we do want.  With a clear goal, the person is then able to set out clear actions to achieve that goal.

So in essence, a coach brings a safe space, where people can be heard, in confidence and without judgement, and be supported to find their own way out of any difficulties and build up their own skills and personal resources.

Coaches work with individuals and teams to identify the blocks that are preventing them from moving forward and set out new, positive goals and a vision for the future. They then give support to set out actions to make this a reality.

I’ll post some more soon on techniques I use as a coach and problems coaching can help resolve.  In the meantime, next time you’re tempted to just tell someone what to do – why not pause for a moment, listen to them and ask them what they’d like to do instead?

If you would like to find out how BrightBird can help you build your performance and support your teams to remain positive and productive, get in touch for a chat or click HERE to book your no-obligation FREE Discovery coaching session.  

We offer online video 1-to-1 coaching support from senior leadership to front-line staff and also team/group coaching. 

Tel: 07714 855757 or email: karen@bright-bird.co.uk

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Overwhelm - taking those first steps out of the swamp...

Overwhelm - taking those first steps out of the swamp...

By Karen Amos

The problem with overwhelm is... well, it's overwhelming!

Yes, I realise that's pretty obvious, but if it's really that obvious, why don't we easily sort it out and feel more in control?

Because... yes, that's right - it's overwhelming.  The Cambridge dictionary describes overwhelm as 'to be too much to deal with'. (1.)  So there you have it - how can you deal with something, which by definition leaves you feeling as if you can't?

Overwhelm sucks us down and dulls our responses and behaviours, sapping your energy and confidence.  It's a swamp land for your productivity and wellbeing.

So here's how to deal with the stuff that feels like it's too much to deal with...!

1.  Accept there is no 'one-step, easy answer' to overwhelm

Overwhelm means different things to different people, at different times.  There are often several contributing factors, each of which compound the other.  This is why we can't often find a way through - and why we often don't even know where to start.  Acknowledging what's going on for you - and importantly, making a conscious decision to change things for the better is a great start though.

2.  If you don't know where to start, start in the easiest place

Because overwhelm then leaves us powerless in its grip, we often do nothing.  We don't know what the 'best' thing to do is, or what the solution is.  So we do the rabbit in the headlights routine.  Often though, just taking one small step can start to lift us out of the swamp.  And each step out, increases our capacity to gain control, energy and impetus.  So don't wait for the whole solution, just take the one small, easy step you know will lead you in the right direction.

3.  Overcome the fear of switching off

Whilst we know we would benefit from taking proper time out, this can actually feel pretty scary when you're under pressure.  The problem is that trying to plough through is often counter-productive, leaving us even more exhausted, but the bogeyman of letting go can really hold us in its grip.  Rationalising how you will benefit from even a short amount of time out will help you make that decision.  Remind yourself for example, how much more productive you will be the next day if you turn off your smart phone and have an early night, or even just finish work at a normal time for once, to go do something nice with your loved ones.

4.  Break tasks and activities down

If we see a large, complex or long-term problem, it's hard to know where to even start - and the positive feelings of achievement aren't so easily found as we try to plough our way through.  Instead, break your goals/outcomes down into smaller steps that you can tick off frequently.  That way you can see your progress and more importantly gain the feelings of satisfaction and control that come with this.  This is even true of smaller, personal habits - e.g. saying you're going to do physical exercise/training 3 times a week can seem too much and mean you don't even start.  However, saying you'll go to spin class on Monday evening, do a 30 minute run on Wednesday and a long walk at the weekend can much more easily be planned in - and ticked off each day.

5.  Get your priorities right

When we feel so overwhelmed with our workload, there's a danger that we end up working on completely the wrong things.  These often swing between the jobs (or people) who shout the loudest, or the things that are easiest and least risky.  Neither of these necessarily are the right thing though.  (And if you think this isn't you, just remind yourself about the times you've ended up doing the dusting rather than tackle a gnarly task!  Yeah, of course, we'd all choose dusting as our new favourite hobby right?!)  Instead, take a few minutes to check through everything that's going on and ask yourself:

  • What could and should be dropped off my to-do list (or even completely off my radar) at this point in time?
  • Are there any quick wins here, that will buy me more time and energy moving forwards?
  • What's the most important thing here?
  • What are the things that no-one would really notice if I didn't do?
  • If I assume I don't have time or energy to do everything that's expected of me, what will I have to put down first?
  • Where's the 'noise' coming from?  Is this legitimately something I should be listening to?  If not, how do I tune it out?

If you were only going to do one thing right now, I'd recommend taking a few minutes away to ask yourself some of these questions.  Then take one step - just one - that will start to take you in the right direction and lead you out of the overwhelm swamp.

References:

  1. OVERWHELM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure leaders and managers  to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better wellbeing, leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Workload – Is this the next Emperor’s new clothes?

Workload – Is this the next Emperor’s new clothes?

By Karen Amos

Exhausted.  Overwhelmed.  Inundated.  This is what I’m hearing and seeing around me, from clients, associates and on social media.

There’s too much work to do and too little time to do it in.  And yes, there are so many things going on right now, resulting in endless firefighting and over which we have very little control.  Vast swathes of staff teams going off sick with various illnesses, of which covid is only one, as an easy example.

I get the feeling of helplessness that goes with this, but can’t help but think there are also many things we CAN do something about, but often don’t.

As we come up to the festive season, this is never more needed.  What should for many be a time of holiday and celebration, becomes a source of stress, anxiety and overwhelm.

This is where our mindset comes in.

Working out what we can control or influence and not expending mental and emotional energy on the things we can’t, will ensure we expend our energy in the right way.  The good old Stoics and latterly Stephen Covey hit this on the nail.

That’s only part of the story though and I’m on a mission to call this out.  I’m going to be the little boy to the Emperor’s New Clothes of workload…

Here are the basic facts of the modern work-life as I see it:

1.  We will NEVER complete all of our workload

2.  We only have a finite amount of time and energy available to us

So let’s unpick this:

1.  We will never complete all of our workload.

We don’t want to think we’re failing, so we try to fool ourselves that one day… one day… we will have ticked all the tasks off on our to-do lists.  The fact is that there will always be more that could or should be done.   We can always do more, make things better, build on the last job… on it goes.

2.  We only have a finite amount of time and energy available to us.

Despite our best efforts there are only 24 hours in a day and you will never have the energy to consistently work huge proportions of this – not if you want to stay well that is!  Even if you had 36 hour days, you’d only have a certain amount of energy you could expend.

So this is why I liken workload to the Emperor’s New Clothes.  No-one is calling this out.  So I am.

If we accept these 2 facts as accurate, we’re left with 2 choices:

1.  Accept the inevitable frustration, despair, meltdown and ill health

2.  Make a mindshift in how we think about and approach our work

Doesn’t seem possible?  Then check out this example:

It’s the Monday, a week before your much needed holidays.  All you can think of is getting away and forgetting about work for a week or so.  So you have great intentions and have made a list of all the things you’re going to achieve from your to-do list before you go.

By the end of day one, you’ve made very little inroad.  In fact, you’ve actually added to your list.

By mid-week, you’re feeling the pressure.  You’re nowhere near getting those big chunky pieces of work out of the way and it really doesn’t look like you’ve time to do them before Friday.

By Thursday, you’re starting to cross off some things that ‘can wait’.

By Friday, you’re crossing off most things, deciding they’re probably not that vital and guess what?  For many of them, you’ll never even add them back onto your list when you return!

Which just goes to prove that much of the issue isn’t about WHAT we’ve got to do, it’s WHAT OUR ATTITUDE IS to what we’ve got to do.

Of course, there are many tools and techniques we can effectively use to manage our time and workload.  I teach many of these in my training programmes, but the fact is, these alone will not solve your workload issues.

For example, I’d always advocate that people use lists to help lighten your cognitive load amongst other things.  The problem is that if we don’t approach what we put on our lists with the right mindset, we’ll find ourselves writing them on kitchen rolls they’ll be that long.

Let’s face it, none of us are going to be on our death bed saying, ‘At least I got to the end of my to-do list!’

The solution to this I believe, lies in having better quality conversations – with ourselves, our managers and our teams.  A conversation that says, ‘OK, this work has just landed and I’m already at or over capacity with my workload.’

  • What do I need to do myself?
  • What do I need to be saying to others?

Here are some coaching questions to get you started:

  • If I accept it’s impossible to get to the bottom of my to-do list – what needs to happen to ensure I can still do a good job and stay well?
  • What if my wellbeing was as important as getting my jobs done?
  • How can I work more collaboratively with others in a way that helps everyone?
  • How can I work more efficiently?
  • What happens when I prioritise my work better?
  • What should my response be if someone comes to me with more work?

One of the things we can say could be to our managers, at what ever level.  Easier said than done in some cases I admit, but what if we were to say, ‘I’m already at capacity.  Can you help me work out what I can do and when?’

I’m not saying this is always the case, but I confess that on occasions in the past, I have been that manager.  The one who was so overwhelmed that when another tranche of work came in, I did a ‘dump and run’ on my team.

The result?  An over-worked and disgruntled team and myself, feeling like I’d sold my values down the river.

The thing is that the solution doesn’t necessarily mean appointing more staff – although how can we ever present a valid business case if we don’t acknowledge what’s there?  Often though, more staff aren’t needed, just the right support, training and advice and some better communication.

In order to truly change things for the better we need to own up.  To shout out if our workload isn’t possible, as there will never be a positive change if we don’t.

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Top Tips for Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome...

Top Tips For Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome

By Karen Amos

As we enter this uncertain future, there are plenty of opportunities to change things for the better.  We've opportunity to try new ways of working and build new habits.  Equally though, there are threats that we'll slip back into old ways, despite the rhetoric and good intentions. After all, change requires effort and after a tough day at work and all the demands of modern life, I don't know about you, but sometimes that extra bit of effort is just too much to ask.  (And a nice sit down with a good book is much more appealing...)

This reminds me of the Boiling Frog Syndrome...

This is a somewhat gruesome metaphor where a frog is slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. ¹ (I did warn you!)

There are several interpretations of this story, but the one that jumped out at me (See what I did there!) is the need to be aware of negative threats that arise gradually, leaving us unaware of the danger until the situation is critical and in many cases, terminal.

This led me to reflect on how this applied in real-life and here are a few thoughts and tips to avoid overcooking our frogs...

Personal Wellbeing...

It’s a strange one isn’t it?  We mostly know what is good and not so good for us regarding our wellbeing - whether that’s mental, physical or otherwise - but it’s always an effort to maintain it.  Good habits slip and before we know it, we’re stressed out, anxious or fighting the flab and trying to regain lost energy.

Stress and our mental health can be a very slippery slope.  We accept one more task, another responsibility, lose another hour’s sleep and without recognising why, we find ourselves in tears, yelling at the kids, or slumped at the laptop wondering how to get through the day.

I’m sure many of you will recognise yourself in at least one of these examples.  I train others on this stuff for a living, but it's still a constant battle to stay on track.  The problem is that the downward spiral is gradual and mostly painless – until you reach the bottom.

Here are some helpful tips and coaching questions to keep your frog healthy…

  1. Have a plan

Seems a bit obvious right?  But without a plan, you won’t know whether things are going astray until something critical happens to remind you.  With a clear plan, you can measure your progress alongside expected outcomes and take corrective action quickly.

This could be a business plan, a marketing plan, or even your own 'get-and-stay-fit' plan.

  1. Get a sounding board

Whether that’s a coach, mentor, or just a trusted friend or colleague, we all need someone who has our back and who we can check in with, but more importantly someone who will give us some honest feedback and advice.  Not only do we need these people, but we need to ensure we plan in non-negotiable time for this checking in, as remember that we don’t recognise the need as the water gets gradually hotter.  I always ensure I've people around me with whom I can have that, 'Is it me...?' conversation - in the knowledge that they may well say, 'Yes, actually Karen... this time it is just you!'

  1. Build in regular wellbeing check-ins:

Boiling frog syndrome is allowed to occur because we simply don't recognise our personal 'Red Flags' until it's too late.  We're completely enmeshed in stress and often by then, it's having a huge detrimental impact on our work, life and wellbeing.

One simple way to avoid this slippery slope is to schedule in regular check-ins with ourselves.  This could be as simple as scoring your stress levels on a scale of 1-10.  Whilst it's a completely subjective and individual approach, it gives you the opportunity to recognise when you need to start taking some remedial action before it's too late.  We discuss this much more in our Positive and Productive programme.

So to avoid boiling your frog, ask yourself these useful coaching questions on a regular basis:

    • What are my pressure points right now?
    • Is this level of pressure tolerable – if so, for how long before I need to take action?
    • Would I think my current situation was acceptable for my friend/colleague/family member?
    • What action would I be advising them to take?
    • What are my warning signs that something needs to change?
    • Is there anything I could STOP doing right now that would actually improve my situation?
    • What could I replace this activity with, that would improve my personal wellbeing and that of my business/organisation/education setting?

Remember, we need to ensure we check the ‘water temperature’ regularly.  Build this into your diary, perhaps at the start or end of every week – that way you won’t be lulled into inaction by the nice warm water…

¹ Boiling frog - Wikipedia

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Feeling Overwhelmed? Try Chunking...

Feeling Overwhelmed?  Try Chunking...

By Karen Amos

I recently returned from holiday feeling very rested.  I was raring to get stuck back into work – I’ve loads of exciting work, opportunities and projects going on right now.  The thing is I didn’t – get stuck into work I mean.  I just couldn’t find the concentration required to knuckle down to the work, with the inevitable self-recrimination that brings.  That just brought me more stress.

The thing was I couldn’t understand why.  I love my work and all the jobs I had lined up were things I enjoy (well, apart from my book-keeping, but let’s not talk about that right now!).

So what was going on?

I’ve finally realised after a few days it was good old overwhelm.  I was simply trying to hold too much in my head at once.  Now those of you that already know me will know I’m a huge fan of lists, so I don’t have to hold loads of info in my head, so why didn’t they work?  The answer was that the tasks felt too diverse – they were like confetti being scattered all over the place and I was spending way too much mental energy keeping it all swept into a pile.

So here’s when I decided to chunk my work.

Chunking is simply the art of pulling together similar pieces of work or information to allow our brain some space to actually work on things.  There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but here’s how it worked for me…

Step 1 – I wrote down the main functions of my business – e.g. financial, marketing, clients, etc.

Step 2 – Under each of these I listed the main things I need to achieve over the next month – e.g. follow up clients, arrange meetings with contacts, write blogs…

Step 3 – I created a ‘Drop List’ on my One Note app where I can check in with these mini ‘chunks’ and ‘drop’ any new items in there as they arise, or that I may have missed.

Step 4 – Check in at the beginning of each week to plan in time to address each of these issues.

But isn’t this just adding another layer to an already significant workload?

In fact, this is just the opposite.  Now I’ve captured everything I need to do and organised it into meaningful ‘chunks’, I have freed up brain space to actually work on the tasks.  This also gives me opportunity to schedule work into my planner, helping me to estimate how much time I’ll actually need to complete the things I’ve identified.

Along with this, as a person with strong visual preferences, I've colour coded each chunk too.  This helps my brain to separate these out.

The result?  A clear focus, less anxiety and more productivity.  Give it a try if you’re feeling that you’re just not making a dent into your tasks.

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

 


Professional Fatigue – Taking steps to recovery…

Professional Fatigue – Taking steps to recovery…

By Karen Amos

‘Fatigue’ and 'Exhaustion' seem to be the word of the moment for many, with an inevitable impact on productivity and mental wellbeing.  Of course, some sectors are suffering more than others, education and health care to name but two, but there are increasing signs of strain everywhere.

Whilst there's no magic wand (I wish!), here are some tips and coaching questions to help you on the road to recovery...

Prioritise:

I’m not going to suggest you just down tools.  OK, if that’s possible with no consequence, go ahead, but for most people that just isn’t the case.  There will definitely be some activities that are ‘must do’s’ at the moment however, and some that will have lesser consequences if not done immediately.

'Where am I feeling the pressure right now?'

Ask yourself, ‘Where am I most feeling the pressure right now?’, then list all the things you can do to minimise or eliminate this, however improbable these may seem.  Talking this over with a colleague or someone else you trust can help you out of the ‘stuck-ness’.  It may, for example, feel impossible that you can hand some tasks over or re-schedule, but an outside perspective often helps bring a new reality.  Many more things are possible than we first perceive.

Another useful question to help challenge is, ‘What will happen if I don’t do this activity right now?’ and if it’s unavoidable, ‘How long can I postpone it for to give me more space and time to restore my energy levels?

Rest:

This is so obvious to be insulting right?  But, even in the best of times, most people don't get enough proper rest.  Again, it’s easier said than done, but many of us are experiencing a state of underlying anxiety and in some cases, possibly hypervigilance.  This leads us to constantly scan our horizon for threats and reassurance that all’s ok.  Signs of this include sleeplessness and constant checking in, or compulsion to check in on the latest news and social media updates.

The paradox is that the more we check and strive to stay on top of things, the more tired and less productive/more anxious we become.

Here are some ways you can give yourself permission to rest:

  • Take time off work – This is the obvious one, but many of us haven't had a 'proper' break for months now and have nothing booked in for the near future.  It seemed a bit pointless to take time off when we couldn’t really go anywhere during lockdown and for many people a 'proper holiday' means abroad.  No matter what your plans, it can help to plan some activities in beforehand though, so you feel your time has been well spent – even if that means catching up on some reading or taking a day-trip from home.   Taking time off means a complete break however – no checking in on calls, or emails.  Just a couple of days can make all the difference.  To do this consistently, engage and discuss this with your team beforehand to ensure you’re not disturbed.  Remember to plan ahead and book the time off in your diary.  It's unlikely to happen if you don't.
  • Cut out the media Give yourself a social media break. You can do this by:
    • Allocating a specific window of time you’ll check in each day
    • Blocking or unfollowing accounts that you find stressful or negative
    • Asking yourself, ‘Will reading this help me right now?’ if you’re tempted to click on something contentious that’d send your blood pressure soaring
    • Having a social media ‘holiday’. Switch off or even uninstall the apps on your phone
    • Make social media unavailable. If you find yourself getting caught in a ‘scroll hole’, put your phone out of reach. I charge my phone on the landing each night, so I don’t take it into the bedroom
  • Ration the news Things are changing fast at the moment, so it’s natural to want to be on top of developments, but again, this can feed anxiety. One way to solve this can be to set a daily check in on the news.  Choose your preferred news ‘channel’, be that on TV, the radio, or the internet and set a time each day where you’ll have a proper catch up.
  • Set manageable working hours Even in the best of times, there’s always more to do than there is time to do it in. Accepting that is the first step to taking back control.  Remember that the longer we work, the less productive we become, so long working weeks quickly become counterproductive.
    • Planning a start and finish time for your day in advance.
    • Set out what you wish to achieve that day – remembering to keep this realistic and finish as soon as you've completed your tasks.
    • Plan in what you will do when you finish work. That way you’ve something to aim for.
    • Packing away your laptop/work equipment when you’ve reached your finish time. This is particularly important when working from home.
    • Asking someone to give you a nudge when you reach your prearranged finishing time.
    • Telling work colleagues when you will/won’t be available and asking them to help you with this by not contacting you outside these times.

Looking at the tips above, try this coaching question:

 

Remember to enlist others to help you to succeed.  Your colleagues, friends and family can make great accountability buddies.  Good luck with your next steps...

For further support for you or your team, check out our training page HERE.

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

 


Investing in Staff Wellbeing - Can you afford not to?

Investing in Staff Wellbeing – Can you afford not to?

By Karen Amos

The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter is launched this autumn.  Whilst few would argue this isn’t needed in the sector, the practicalities of publicly signing up and implementing such a measure can have the paradoxical effect of actually increasing the stress of those charged with the task.

This is a fantastic opportunity to commit to positive steps to improve the working lives of all working in education.  The danger is however, that it becomes another ‘bolt-on’ to the day-to-day work.  The fact is that for any actions to be truly meaningful, the principles of this charter need to form the bedrock of your setting and define your wellbeing culture.

So what is culture?

Culture can be defined as the guiding beliefs and values evident in the way a school operates. ¹  Put simply, culture is seen in our behaviour, or ‘the way we do things around here’. ²

This is more than just having some pretty graphics of your values on the wall.  This is about observable, tangible behaviour.  For good or bad, your setting’s culture is determined by how people consistently behave.

In practical terms, this means we have to do much more than just bring cake into the staff room.  This is a nice gesture, not a wellbeing support intervention.  If you have a team who are stressed out and on the edge, you’re quite likely to make matters worse and risk being told where to shove your cake, if there are no other support mechanisms in place.

The costs of not implementing a wellbeing culture:

Of course there are clear ethical issues why staff wellbeing should be a priority.  But there is also a financial and business case for improving wellbeing too.

The latest Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index survey showed some shocking statistics. If they don’t constitute a crisis in the education sector right now, there should certainly be some very loud alarm bells ringing.

Deliotte’s research highlights the financial impact of the problem.   The cost to the Education Sector in 2020 in the UK is £1.1 – 1.5 billion per year.   That £1.1-1.5 thousand per education staff per year.   Let’s put the ethics aside for a moment and just ask yourself what your setting could do with that money instead?  What difference would this make to the outcomes of the children or communities you work in?

There are obvious costs such as sickness absence, but also other less obvious, but equally impactful issues, such as lack of productivity and presenteeism from burnt out or disillusioned staff.  And what about the time costs of counselling unproductive, unhappy or unwell staff teams.  How much time do you and your team spend each month on these activities, when someone reaches crisis point?

Viewed this way, implementing a culture where staff wellbeing is front and centre should be seen as an investment, not a drain on resources.  In fact, Deloitte4 found a clear Return on Investment from implementing wellbeing support in the workplace, with a 10:1 ROI on training.

Also at a time where many schools are struggling to recruit the right calibre of candidates, wouldn’t it be a benefit for your setting to be seen as a ‘go to’ employer?

How to implement a wellbeing culture in a busy setting:

Whilst there is some element of ‘setting up’, a successful wellbeing culture shouldn’t add to your workload and does not have to mean a major financial investment.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Embed wellbeing in training and development – The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter states there is no expectation for managers to provide professional wellbeing support for which they have no professional training, so…
  • Consider outsourcing – See this as an investment. How much do you currently spend in staff cover or lost productivity?  Consider the business case for bringing in the experts, whether that’s training, resources, or an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Build staff engagement – start with building great conversations in your setting. Not just between managers and their teams, but also between peers.  Recent surveys show that 57% of education staff were not confident in sharing unmanageable stress/mental health issues at work.  3  Building trust and understanding are key to positive staff engagement.

Building trust and understanding are key to positive staff engagement – which leads us to…

  • Develop a supportive leadership culture – Where people feel supported, not criticised. Using a coaching approach is a fantastic and practically cost-free strategy.  This doesn’t mean lengthy 1-to-1 sessions with people, but simply that we have meaningful conversations where leaders are curious and solution-focused.
  • Draw up a Wellbeing Strategy – this will support everyone to maintain realistic expectations and standards, including around workload. This doesn’t need to be a huge document. No-one needs another ‘War and Peace’ that never sees the light of day.  Just one page with your aims for the coming year and a couple of concrete actions constitute a strategy.  This could be as simple as having a realistic workload policy and an effective return to work interview format.
  • Develop robust HR procedures and get the right support – This way you can ensure you ‘do the right thing’ by your staff, but also ensure any responses and approaches are proportionate and aligned with your setting’s wider strategy and outcomes. This isn’t about giving in to unreasonable demands or lowering standards, but setting clear expectations and knowing what support you will and won’t give.

The ethical argument in favour of building a wellbeing culture should be obvious, but if implemented, everyone wins.  Everyone.  The children, the staff, the setting, the community… everyone.  What are your next steps?

  1. Fullan, M., (2007) The new meaning of educational change, Routledge, New York.
  2. Hawkins, P., (2021) Creating a coaching culture: Developing a coaching strategy for your organisation, Open University Press, UK.
  3. Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020
  4. Deloitte – Mental Health and Employers –  Refreshing the case for investment – 2020

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Dealing with the Curse of Perfectionism - and the Cure of Good Enough

The Curse of Perfectionism - and the cure of Good Enough

by Karen Amos

In my line of work, I have the privilege of meeting many people from all walks of life, albeit virtually nowadays.  In doing so, it’s easy to pick up themes.  Here’s one – January was tough.

The end of January is always a difficult time.  It’s towards the end of the winter when we get the fatigue. When the long nights go on forever and we’re starved of sunlight and to compound it all, we’ve been locked in.

I work with schools and I know many parents of school-aged children.  There have been numerous fractious exchanges between these two groups, which is almost inevitable when you consider the pressure everyone is under.  And that's the key to it – it’s about the pressure.  When we feel under pressure, we naturally go into self-preservation mode.

There has been huge pressure on teachers, who are not only dealing with uncertainty, but also trying to juggle online and face-to-face learning with concerns and follow-ups of children in their care, not to mention the politics, with a large and small 'P'.

In the meantime, parents have suddenly had the pressure of trying to hold down jobs whilst working from home and managing the almost impossible expectations of home-schooling.

I’ve posted about the philosophy of Stoicism since the new year.  Here’s the thing – everyone just wants to do a good job.  Sometimes though, we have to accept that ‘least worst’ is the best on offer.  In doing so, we have to simply accept what is.  That’s not defeatist by any stretch - it’s pragmatic and allows you to give yourself permission to just do what’s ‘Good Enough’.  By good enough, I mean good enough in the context of the circumstances in which you find yourself.

The concept of ‘Good Enough’ has its roots in child development and parenting and latterly in social work, then also in software and systems design.  But there’s a message for all of us in there…

‘Perfection is the enemy of action.’

Magnifying shortcomings and failures, just leads to disappointment and grows, resulting in guilt, anger and blaming.  ‘This isn’t right, ergo someone must be at fault.’

Whilst being Good Enough Parents to our children, how about being Good Enough Parents to ourselves?  Let’s set out reasonable expectations in advance and not expect more of ourselves than we would of others – or indeed, not expecting more of others than is reasonable.

Here are some helpful coaching questions to take a stoical, 'Good Enough' approach to life:

  • What could I achieve today in order to think, 'Yes, that was good enough'?
  • What would I tell my friend was good enough if they were in my position?
  • What are the consequences if I do this to a good enough, rather than perfect standard?
    • What will I gain?
    • What will this cost me?
  • What's the most important thing to achieve today?

Above all, Good Enough is about being kind - to yourself and others.  After all, there are always plenty of challenges in life, so why make things any harder?

If you'd like support for you or your team to reduce stress and build resilience and effectiveness at work, check out our online Positive and Productive training programme for BUSINESS & VCSE orgs or SCHOOLS.

For an informal, no-obligation chat call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.ukOr visit our NEW training pages HERE 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

 


What to do when positive thinking isn't enough...

What to do when positive thinking isn't enough...

By Karen Amos

I can’t think of anyone who’s not been challenged in one way or another by the pandemic over this last 9 months.  Whilst this has certainly tested many of us in the extreme, this is just one of many challenges life will send our way.

As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching the frequently misunderstood philosophy of Stoicism, which is often misinterpreted as the British ‘stiff upper-lip’, ‘putting up with misfortune’ view of life.  In reality, stoicism teaches us a very practical lesson – that in life, circumstances will continue to challenge us, but it is within our gift to decide how we will respond to them.

Here’s a quote by Epicticus:

‘When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude towards it. It is not the things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor are they what they seem to be. They are what they are.’

Often coaching is seen as a bit ‘Pollyanna – all in the garden is rosy’, which is why many people (with some justification) cite ‘toxic positivity’ at the relentless ‘just think positive’ messages.  In fact coaching at it’s best is nothing of the sort.  Tony Robbins has a great approach to this.  I paraphrase:

Just relying on a positive thinking alone is like going into your garden and chanting ‘there are no weeds, there are no weeds’, when your garden’s clearly full of weeds.  You need to get in there and pull them out!

We need to accept that life is frequently challenging and bad stuff happens.  Rather than passively accepting that, drowning in self-misery, or railing against the universe, we need to roll up our sleeves and deal with it.  We need to take action that will serve us well.

Here are a few coaching questions to get you started:

  • What’s my main challenge here?
  • Is there a small, practical action I can take that will serve me better right now?
  • What are the costs and benefits of my current approach/attitude?  What can I do differently that will move me forward and have a positive effect?

Remember, we’re all human and it’s important to acknowledge our feelings.  If something bad happens it’s perfectly natural and healthy to feel down, upset or angry.  The problem is that simply dwelling on these feelings and responses will not serve us well, or help our situation.  It’s therefore in your gift and best interests to start to coach yourself to a better way forward that will.

If you'd like support for you or your team to reduce stress and build resilience and effectiveness at work, get in touch for an informal, no-obligation chat.  Watch out for our NEW Positive & Productive Programme - launching January 2021! Contact us for more details or click HERE.

We offer one-to-one and team coaching and in-house training programmes.

Call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.ukOr visit our NEW training pages HERE 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.