Getting the right work-life balance
Work-life balance is often discussed in the education sector but can be difficult to achieve.
In our 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index 70% of teachers and education staff said workload was the main reasons for thinking about leaving their jobs.
Guides / 5 mins read
Excessive workload and the lack of a work-life balance remain key
issues at work which drive poor mental health or wellbeing for education staff.
This can have a dramatic impact on a teacher’s life.
of teachers and education staff said workload was the main reasons for thinking about leaving their jobs
of staff who experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms say poor work-life balance was an issue
The side effects of a poor work-life balance can include:
- sickness in holidays
- absence from work
- loss of voice
- panic attacks
- no time to exercise
- lack of sleep
- loss of confidence
- poor quality of life
- poor relationships
- poor social life
- detachment from others
- lack of time with children
- lack of time with friends
- inability to feel empathy
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for a prolonged period, you should contact your GP or a health care professional.
I had completely lost my boundaries, I didn’t know where my job ended and I started. It had become this amorphous thing.
What can I do about it?
One of the difficulties in finding a balance is that life constantly changes, as does the amount of pressure at work. The key is to have strategies and techniques ready to use when needed.
Setting your own goals
Start by setting smaller goals for changing your work pattern. Don’t try to change everything at once.
Keep a diary for a week or two about how you work. Identify any patterns and ask yourself what you might be able to change. Try focusing on the positive impact of the change.
Some example goals include:
- Set a time to finish each day during the term. This could give you time to have dinner with family, exercise or meet friends.
- Set free time to rest properly on weekends and weeknights.
- Sign up to a regular activity, such as a class or club. Connecting with yourself and your passions can help avoid burnout.
- Set aside 15 minutes to meditate daily.
- Take your entire lunch break!
- Set time to move your body. This could be vigorous exercise or something gentle like a walk, yoga or stretching.
- Separate home and work. Can you keep marking at school and avoid paperwork in the bedroom?
Write your goals down
Once you have set your goals, write them down. You are far more likely to achieve your goals if you put them somewhere you can see. You can refer to them later if you feel tired or overwhelmed.
Tips to improve work-life balance
Change your state of mind when you get home
Take fresh air, exercise or enjoy a nice, hot bath. Try to leave behind the day at school.
Can you physically separate your home life from your work life? If you can, leave your books, marking and assessments behind. If you do take them home, leave them in a room where you can close the door when you have finished, and make sure this is away from where you sleep. Have different email and social media accounts for personal life and work.
In the holidays
Do not fill the holiday with work you have not been able to do during term time. Allow yourself time to rest properly and do not over schedule yourself so you feel overwhelmed. Everyone’s comfort-level is different – be honest with yourself about yours.
Do not try to accommodate everyone else’s needs. Prioritise what you want to do and give yourself permission to serve your needs first.
Find time and space
Create some time and space for reflection – not only to think about your approach at work, but also your personal life and relationships. Get up 30 minutes early, or take 30 minutes when you get back from work to sit and be calm.
Reflect on your week, notice where there were barriers to achieving your goals and how you might remove them.
There will always be more to do than there is time to do it. Prioritise and talk to your line manager if you cannot physically do all that is being asked of you. They should be able to provide some support.
Take your entire lunch break and limit checking emails – set a time for the final check of the day!
Minimise unnecessary meetings – will a phone call or email suffice? Keep meetings on track with an agenda, and only meet for 30 minutes if needed.
Do not over commit yourself – teachers are a conscientious bunch and it is tempting to say yes to everything asked of you. Ask yourself if things support your priorities and say no when you need to.
Planning and paperwork
It’s important to build up a bank of readily accessible resources that will engage the students without too much reliance on your time and materials. Do not fall into over-planning lessons.
Reports can also mean a heavy workload over a short period of time, particularly if you have multiple classes. Try to plan ahead, ask for help if it’s needed and develop a ‘statement bank’ that you can use as a starting point.
Enjoy the autonomy
Teachers often feel as if they are just churning through the work and feel over directed. But you have more autonomy than they realise, particularly in class. Make your lessons enjoyable for you and your students. Tell the stories you want to tell and include activities if you feel like it.
Ignore the stay-late culture and don’t be afraid to set boundaries in line with your own personal and professional priorities.
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