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How to run welfare checks for school staff
Know how to conduct wellbeing checks with your staff so you can effectively provide support and respond to any problems they have. Download our list of discussion questions to help you prepare.
What are welfare checks and why should we do them?
Also called wellbeing checks, they're a chance for staff to:
- Talk about how they're feeling in general and how they're coping with their work
- Raise any concerns they have
- Seek support if they need it
Welfare checks are different from performance-related meetings, which focus on professional goals.
There's no statutory requirement to offer welfare checks, but it's a chance for you to understand how your staff are doing, address problems and provide any support they need. This is especially important now, as pressure of working during coronavirus is likely to have exacerbated existing challenges.
How to conduct effective checks
There's no one right way to do them
It's up to you to decide how to carry out welfare checks, as it'll depend on your school's context. You might go for one-on-one check-ins with a clear schedule, or casual chats and a ‘buddy system’ that pairs staff with their peers. Depending on the coronavirus situation, it's likely you'll hold these meetings remotely.
Our associate education expert Lorraine Petersen suggests you could have an initial meeting as part of your school’s normal performance review process, and then a follow-up 6 months later (separate from their performance review). She said that meeting 2 to 3 times a year should be sufficient for staff to raise any issues without being overwhelmed by regular meetings.
Take a whole-school approach to staff wellbeing
For welfare checks to be effective, it's important that you embed staff wellbeing in your policies and practices - these checks shouldn't be a single point of contact for staff who are struggling. Ask yourself:
- Have you made it clear to staff what mental health support your school has in place for those who need it? (E.g. through mentioning this in staff meetings, announcements and other communications with staff)
- Do staff know who to talk to if they’re struggling with work-life balance?
- Do your school policies (such as your sick leave policy and your staff wellbeing policy) address mental health?
If you answered 'yes' to these questions, it'll be easier for you to introduce welfare checks.
Checks should be optional
- Staff should be free to opt out without any consequences or concerns that it’ll reflect badly on them
- Although staff will normally have welfare checks with their manager, they should be able to freely ask for an alternative manager, or to meet with another staff member present
Be flexible with meeting times
You can schedule meetings during or after school hours, in line with your school’s performance management policy. Bear in mind that staff will have different home situations, so ask them when would be convenient for them.
Download our questions to help you prepare
Use our list of discussion questions to help you run your welfare checks and structure the meetings. Our resource:
- Covers questions on staff wellbeing, managing stress, and providing support, among others
- Provides space for you to take notes (though you don't need to keep a record of the meeting, see below for more information on this)
Keep any records confidential
You don't need to keep a record of what you discuss in an informal wellbeing check. However if you do take notes, make sure you let staff know beforehand and give them the option to opt out.
Keep any records confidential and let staff know what you'll use them for – reassure staff that what you've discussed during wellbeing checks won't be used to inform appraisals or regular performance management.
During the meeting: what to keep in mind
Practise empathetic listening
It's especially important to do this when staff are talking about personal matters that can be difficult. Give them your full attention and respond with empathy and understanding. Remember:
- Don’t jump in to offer your own response to someone else’s situation – just listen
- Ask what solution they would seek, and how they would like things to improve
- Be honest and flexible
The Centre for Creative Leadership has tips for improving your active listening, including:
- Withholding judgement
- Clarifying when necessary
- Summarising (repeating key points to make sure you’ve got them right)
Be ready to respond to problems
Provide the staff member with support and act on any problems if possible. This might include:
- Reviewing your school policies
- Suggesting actions that staff members can take
- Agreeing to follow up or escalate concerns
- Keeping an eye out if staff are having problems in a particular area
See our model staff wellbeing policy (in particular section 3) for how you could support staff with wellbeing issues.
If staff feel uncomfortable during or after the wellbeing check about what you discussed or problems that emerged, let them know any next steps (e.g. if they want to report a problem, tell them how they can do this).
Remember, you’re not trying to replace mental health professionals
Wellbeing checks are not an alternative to professional mental health care for staff who are facing difficulties. Download and adapt our handout of external resources that staff can use to get the help they need. Share it with them before or during welfare checks, or distribute it more widely to staff.
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