How to escalate staff wellbeing concerns

As a line manager, find out how and when to escalate wellbeing concerns about your staff, so you can effectively support them at school.

Last reviewed on 15 February 2023
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 42029
Contents
  1. Wellbeing concerns you might come across, and how to spot them 
  2. How to approach a concern
  3. 'Escalating' a concern doesn't necessarily mean reporting to senior staff
  4. Only share concerns with those who need to know
  5. Download and share our wellbeing resources with staff members

Wellbeing concerns you might come across, and how to spot them 

Your staff may face a range of wellbeing issues, including: 

  • Stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Personal issues, such as bereavement, relationship troubles and family matters
  • Financial worries

What to look out for

You may have: 

Take all wellbeing concerns seriously

As a line manager, it's your responsibility to listen without judgement to any concerns your staff have and take them seriously.

Nevertheless, as every staff member will experience and be impacted by these problems differently, you'll likely need to tailor your response depending on the individual's: 

  • Circumstances
  • Need for support
  • Wishes in terms of how you go about addressing the issue

Refer to your school's staff wellbeing policy (if you have one) to make sure you're taking appropriate action.

How to approach a concern

Start with an informal chat:

  • Arrange to discuss the issue with the staff member - choose a place where they'll feel comfortable
  • Encourage them to voice the problem in their own words (take a look at our article on running welfare checks for tips on empathetic listening). Let them lead the chat so they feel in control
  • Avoid making suggestions or decisions on their behalf, as this could cause more stress and anxiety. For example, even if they're feeling overwhelmed, they may not want you to lessen their workload as that could make them more worried about not 'pulling their weight' 
  • Ask them how you can support them - this could include helping them prioritise tasks or cutting down on internal meetings to reduce workload 

Mind has a guide to approaching conversations about mental health in the workplace. Find it on page 5 of their 'resource for line managers and HR professionals', linked halfway down this page. Share it with your team and make sure everyone is confident in having these conversations. 

Consider next steps based on your chat

If the staff member needs support: depending on the nature of the support and the impact it'll have on the rest of your team, it's good to inform your own line manager of this to:

  • Keep them in the loop about things affecting your team
  • Share the workload and make sure you're also supported when trying to help your team

You don't need to go into specific detail about the concern or involve your line manager in providing them with support - read more about when to escalate a concern in the section below. 

If the staff member doesn't need or want support: arrange to check in with them in a week or 2 to make sure the concern doesn't get worse. If it does, you'll be there to offer further support. 

If they come back and say they want support: ask them how you can help. Be flexible and offer some options - depending on what these are, you might need to run it past your own line manager or get it approved by a senior leader.

'Escalating' a concern doesn't necessarily mean reporting to senior staff

Whether you report a concern to senior staff will depend on things like:

  • The nature and severity of the concern
  • What support your staff member needs
  • Your school's context and leadership style

Certain decisions, such as offering significant time off to a staff member to deal with a crisis, may need to be approved by a senior leader. Meanwhile, helping the staff member reassess their workload, or pointing them towards counselling services, doesn't usually need to be reported.

You may want to steer clear of the phrase "escalation" to avoid the impression that it's a big deal to ask for help. This is especially true if the staff member seems worried about being a burden on the team. Consider using phrases like "put a plan in place" or "get some appropriate support" when planning your next steps with the staff member.

Only share concerns with those who need to know

You can't always promise full confidentiality, as you have a responsibility to report concerns if there's risk of harm or if you believe the staff member really shouldn't be in school. As mentioned above, you may also need approval from senior staff for some types of support. 

If the staff member is worried about you reporting their concern, or if you need to break confidentiality because you think there's risk of harm:

  • Approach the topic sensitively and explain that it's necessary for you to share the concern so you can get support in place to help them 
  • Make it clear you'll only share the concern with those who need to know, e.g. someone on the SLT and/or HR
  • Reassure the staff member that you won't share any details of their concern

Make sure you're speaking to the staff member in a quiet place where they feel comfortable and where you won't be overheard.

Download and share our wellbeing resources with staff members

Remember, you're not expected to provide the support a mental health professional would - instead, point the staff member towards professional help.

Download and adapt our handout of external resources to share with them. You can add resources or services available from your school, trust or local authority (LA).

Sources

Many thanks to Catherine Holmes, our internal wellbeing expert, and Tony Cook, an independent learning and development consultant, for their valuable contributions to this article.

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