What is Stress?

'Health and safety' is much maligned, but I've found the Health and Safety Executive to be a very sound, useful resource. On their website they advise that there are six areas which organisations need to address in order to understand and manage stress in the workplace. These are:

  • Demands: workload, hours, expectation
  • Control: how much say we have in our work
  • Support: both emotional and physical 
  • Relationships: with other staff, managers and, in the case of schools, with students
  • Role: what the role is, and whether these roles do not conflict with one another
  • Change: how change is managed and communicated

There is a lot of overlap between categories, but it is a useful structure, I think, with which to consider the stress that school staff are under. We are all familiar with the stress that increasing demands create, but how often do we think about the stress caused by a lack of control? And yet I can name countless cases - including my own - where a sense of dis-empowerment and powerlessness cause more anxiety and stress than do the actual work. When our voice isn't heard and we don't have ownership of our work, our teaching suffers. 

Similarly, we are used to providing support of a technical kind to teachers who are struggling, but what systems exist to provide the emotional support a teacher may be lacking? We all know that staff will develop strong supportive bonds to support one another, but outside of this how do we, as schools, plan for this kind of support? And if we don't, how can we be sure that people aren't falling between the gaps?