Should schools embrace wellness at work?

It’s no secret that a teacher’s job isn’t just educating kids from 9-3 but all the other things that take up time and energy; writing reports, dealing with parents and recognising children with learning difficulties to name but a few. It is clearly taking a toll too; a survey conducted in 2017 by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health (now Everymind) revealed that up to half of Australian teachers are quitting the profession inside five years.

The movement towards wellness in the workplace has become a common feature of businesses all over the world in recent years. There are various definitions, but the concept is generally centred around how the work environment impacts on an employee’s “physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing”, and implementing strategies and resources to enhance these aspects. Think living walls, ping pong tables, discounted gym memberships and standing desks.

It is the common domain of companies from small start-ups to global giants such as Google and KPMG, but how would the approach work in a school environment? Perhaps the more important question is whether teachers and consequently, their students, would benefit from such intervention?

Staff rooms are traditionally designed with space for teachers to eat lunch, spend their breaks and work outside of the classroom, and that’s pretty much it. What if there were nap pods for tired teachers to recharge, or onsite gym and shower facilities to use before and after the work day? The impact of stressed and rundown teacher can have an adverse impact on their ability in the classroom, which can influence student’s learning and results. The flow-on effect of teachers in a better state of mind would be very advantageous for educators, students and the school in general.

Reducing stress and promoting wellness by implementing these types of facilities would be a great way to attract young talent, entice professionals from other industries and stem the flow of graduate teachers opting out of the job. After all, nearly half of all teachers surveyed in the Teachers Report Card 2017 reported feeling stressed “most of the time” or “fairly often” in a regular week.

This is particularly relevant to Millennials, many of which consider workplace wellbeing as important a factor as salary and the prospect of career growth, to the point where many organisations are now highlighting wellness aspects in job advertisements to attract premium candidates. While there are some initiatives schools can’t offer teachers (you can’t exactly bring a pet to school and working from home isn’t an option), resources to promote health, exercise and relaxation could all feasibly be incorporated into a school environment.

There are some obvious barriers to this kind of approach. For one, most of these changes would require significant financial investment, one that most schools would already have other ideas for if they managed to get their hands on such a sum. Another issue could simply be resistance to change based on the premise that it is radical, unnecessary or unrelated to the teaching profession.

For all the potential deterrents, the idea of promoting wellness resources and facilities for teachers in Australian schools is certainly food for thought. It wouldn’t be feasible for all schools, and depending on location and size, it would be more suited to some than others, but perhaps it is just the recipe required to enhance the capacity to attract, recruit and retain teachers.

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