Maintaining wellbeing of returning staff - Hurstpierpoint College

Maintaining wellbeing of returning staff

The ‘new normal’ could mean staff returning to school after long absences. Mike Lamb, Director of Staff and Pupil Wellbeing at Hurst College outlines seven ways of maintaining wellbeing and helping them transition smoothly back into the school community.

As pupils return to classrooms across the UK in September, the expectation is that teachers and support staff will be returning as well. Many staff have never been away, from teachers and their colleagues providing online learning to the many staff ensuring teaching and care for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. However, other staff may have been furloughed or confined to their homes for other reasons, including being vulnerable themselves. Everyone’s experiences throughout lockdown have been different – some have even been positive, but many people have found it challenging. Therefore, maintaining wellbeing of those returning is paramount.

Prioritising communication

It is important for school management teams to acknowledge how difficult it has been for staff who have been away. Also, that they must be supported with their transition back to the workplace. Communication from school leaders has never been more crucial, and this includes maintaining wellbeing via communication with staff, as well as with parents and pupils. If in-person gatherings are being avoided, and email overload is an issue, video and other media can make communications feel more personal.

Say thank you

Saying thank you to staff is also key. Whether they have thrown themselves into online teaching or been furloughed, all have contributed in their own way. These thanks should be genuine, targeted and delivered personally where possible, but small gifts sent to staff members at home or videos of the community thanking each other are other tangible ways to exemplify this.


Ensure staff are welcomed back as part of the community, whether they are teachers, cleaners, kitchen staff or receptionists. Staff should feel listened to, and their feedback heard. Regular SMT drop-ins, genuine open-door policies, visible middle leaders, making time for staff voices – such as wellbeing surveys – all help to develop a culture of listening and collegiality.


It is not only pupils who have missed social interaction. Most school staff report missing the ‘water cooler moments’ and the daily uplifts of speaking and laughing with their colleagues. Positive and regular interaction helps boosts everyone’s mood, helps staff feel more connected and is a way of maintaining wellbeing. Social events that encourage mixing between individuals and groups help everyone to once again bond as a team. Examples of activities could include an online quiz or an outdoor picnic, depending on your local context, situation and restrictions.

Make them feel safe

It is obviously crucial to develop effective systems that allow staff to feel, and be, safe in their roles. Developing extensive facilities for testing pupils and staff, encouraging appropriate use of PPE, sanitary practices and ventilation will help people feel better able to do their jobs. Explain the rationale behind important procedures and ensure everyone is clear about their responsibilities. Developing an ‘all in this together’ attitude will lead to a desire to contribute towards keeping everybody safe and in school. Although there should be high expectations of staff in all schools, they should feel that they can get things wrong, in the same way that we encourage pupils to make mistakes and learn from them. Mental health conversations are now much more common and open in the school environment, but staff must feel empowered to speak up if they are struggling. A culture where positive mental health is celebrated, and problems are openly discussed, encourages staff to step forward when they need help.

Make support accessible

Staff not only need to feel listened to but also know that they can access support if they need it. Senior and middle leaders who are well trained or experienced in managing staff, alongside clear line management models, will allow this to happen effectively. These managers should carefully oversee staff workloads to ensure not too much is being asked of individuals. Buddies, mentors and coaches within the community may also provide this support, as will groups set up to share best practice and problem solve. Those who need an extra level of support could be offered access to a counsellor or someone who can direct staff towards more professional or specialist help. Education Support is a charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the entire education workforce, which offers a 24-hour helpline and an employees’ assistance programme.

Encourage self-care

Help staff to identify when they are finding work hard and know what they need to do about it. Encourage them to take part in physical activity, whether remotely or live. This promotes other positive coping strategies and sends the right message to everyone in maintaining wellbeing. It is even better when senior management models these activities, as it gives permission for others to do the same – when time and circumstances allow. Linking wellbeing to CPD goals may also be a useful way to encourage staff to better look after themselves.

Through effective listening and communication – and by providing a safe, supportive, open and positive working environment to return to – we provide the best chance of maintaining wellbeing while transitioning back to our ‘new normal’.


Find out more about Wellbeing at Hurst College