How to recognise staff burnout and prevent it

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week, Arbor’s Partnership Specialist and Wellbeing Champion, Alice, has some tips for how you can protect your school staff against burnout.

In my role at Arbor I speak to Headteachers, SLT and admin teams everyday when they’re in the early stages of exploring Arbor MIS. I’ve noticed a question that comes up time and time again in conversations: “How can we reduce workload for staff?” 

It’s no secret that Teacher workload is high and studies have found that Teachers experience more stress than other workers. Tes reports that almost a third of Teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying. This got me thinking about the impact of heavy workload and the difference between being busy and being burned out. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is recognised as the feeling of running out of steam at work – those days when even small tasks can feel unachievable. Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism,  detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” It doesn’t just happen overnight which is why it can be hard to spot, even for the person experiencing it. One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to spot the signs as early as possible so that you can make small changes to get back on track. 

Some signs you might be experiencing burnout at work: 

  • Fatigue and sleep issues 
  • Finding it hard to concentrate 
  • Finding it hard to stay productive 
  • Feeling cynical and detached
  • Reduced creativity 
  • Not doing things to the best of your ability

Potential causes of burnout 

  1. Workload – If you consistently have a workload that goes beyond your capacity and leaves you no time for rest and space for development 
  2. Lack of control – At the moment we have to quickly adapt to new Covid-19 rules and regulations which can be stressful and make us feel out of control 
  3. Work-life balance – When work takes up too much of your time and prevents you from focusing on friends and family, this can make you feel isolated  
  4. Too much admin – If you feel like you are spending too much time on admin at work it can leave you feeling demotivated

Tips to prevent burnout 

One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to take some time off. It’s important to have time when you don’t think about work so that you can be energised and engaged when you are at work. This can take the shape of a holiday, but for school staff you might find the holidays don’t fall when you need them the most. More and more schools are introducing paid wellbeing days for staff, and in many circumstances this has helped reduce staff absence, sickness and turnover rates. Read more about how Dan Morrow, CEO at Woodland Academy Trust, implemented wellbeing days and other initiatives across his schools. 

It’s important to set boundaries to protect the time you have for yourself as well as being available in a work capacity. Set hours in the day where you don’t respond to work-related messages, no one should expect you to be on call 24 hours a day – even parents!

Work out some strategies to manage your stress by making a list of all the things that help you deal with stress. These can be things such as exercise, spending time outside or having a long bath. Self-care is often the first thing to slip off your to-do list when you’re busy so make sure you build time into your routine for yourself.

It’s important to tell someone when you are feeling burned out at work. Reach out to your colleagues, friends or family if you are feeling overwhelmed, sometimes just having someone to listen can make a world of difference. If your mental wellbeing is being especially impacted by burnout, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP about arranging some extra support.

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