Talking to your manager about stress: for teachers and school staff

Are you able to raise your stress levels with your line manager? If you’re wondering where to start, read on. We unpack what you need to consider being having ‘the talk’

Articles / 4 mins read

Teaching can be a calling, but it comes with – sometimes intense – stress.

And then Covid happened.

According to the 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index 72% describing of you describe yourselves as stressed.

Even if you love your job, it can be tough to admit to yourself that you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Let alone your manager!

But those awkward and embarrassing, but not world ending (!) conversations can sometimes be the difference between staying well enough to keep teaching, and getting burned out.

Ask yourself

Do you know if your school as a clear and consistent mental health policy in place?

If it does, it should outline the ‘reasonable adjustments’ and support that you’re entitled to.

Have a read! Go into any conversation about your stress levels armed with all the information on what support you are entitled to.  

Can you spot the signs of severe stress and burnout in yourself?

Insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite, heart palpitations may all be indicators that your body is having to work hard to cope with the extra adrenaline in your system. If you are experiencing these symptoms, first, be kind to yourself. You’re a human, not a machine.

But now might be the moment to talk to your line manager about steps you can take towards managing your stress levels. This is vital for your health in the long run.

Tips for having ‘the chat’

1. Be upfront

Often line manager meetings can focus heavily on student outcomes rather than factoring in the bigger picture. Remember, it’s okay to ask your line manager to prioritise time to talk about you! Ultimately, it will be irrelevant to talk about your students, if you are not able to look after yourself and the things you will need support with to do your job in the best way possible.

2. Be aware of the support you are entitled to

Get clued up and find out what ‘reasonable adjustments’ your manager could put in place for you before you meet. Visit the ACAS website for helpful information and ask HR for your school’s workplace polices if you don’t have a copy. Make sure you get any reasonable adjustments agreed in writing with your line manager.

3. Don’t rush it

Timing is everything – don’t be afraid to request a time of day that works for you. A conversation about mental health can be challenging and a vulnerable experience for everyone involved. Don’t try to fit it in between other meetings where you may be interrupted. Similarly, the end of the day may not be ideal if either of you need to leave promptly. Allow adequate time for the conversation; if you feel upset or distressed you need enough time to explain how you are feeling.

4. Don’t put it off

It can be tempting to put off difficult conversations at work, especially when they are related to your emotions or mental health. But, the reality is if you get help sooner you will reduce the risk of burnout and more serious health issues in the longer term. It’s also worth remembering that if you are to look after and provide the best education for your students, you have to spend time refuelling and looking after your health and wellbeing too. Make use of the support available to you when you need it.

5. Find the right place

It can be really tricky to find a quiet and private space in a busy school building. The safeguarding rules about windows on doors etc mean that there are less and less spaces available for staff to use for private conversations. It is worth thinking about this and explicitly asking for a private space to talk. If is important to know that if you are having a vulnerable conversation about your mental health, you won’t be overheard and you can have space to express your feelings without being interrupted.

6. After the conversation

After discussing any mental health issues with your line manager, you should expect them to take appropriate action to support you. Line managers have a duty of care to their teams and this should be part of a wider school culture where conversations about mental health have the same importance as those about physical health. You could draft a support plan together which outlines the support you might need and how long this is in place for. It is important that you have a regular time to ‘check -in’ with your line manager and update them on any changes to your support needs.

What if talking to my line manager doesn’t help?

We know how disheartening it could feel if the conversation you’ve built yourself up for doesn’t help your situation. If you find you need more immediate support or the conversation with your line manager doesn’t go how you expected, you can reach out to Education Support for further help and advice in a number of ways:

Support for individuals:

  • Our free helpline which is an essential lifeline for teachers and education staff who are struggling. It is confidential and available 24/7 on 08000 562561.
  • Free, specialist articles, videos and guides to help teachers and education staff struggling with the impact of stress. All resources are expert-led and easy to access.

Support for school leaders: 

  • Free online facilitated peer support groups which provide a space headteachers and deputy headteachers can reflect on the issues you are facing with others who understand.
  • The Employee Assistance Programme is a cost-effective staff wellbeing package that can transform your team's wellbeing. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.
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