Mark Solomons - creator of triple ERA and GESS Judges Commendation Award-winning Welbee, an online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool - author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It?’, and an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 14 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in education, shares his insights into managing workload.
Establishing clear boundaries helps to clarify roles, expectations and the time available to fulfil them, which can facilitate more effective workload management. The close-knit nature of a school community makes this even more important. If staff feel unable to set boundaries, or if those set are not respected, wellbeing will decline, stress levels heighten, and resentment grow.
Leaders often feel obliged to respond immediately and always be available to everyone. This creates conflicting demands on time and an increase in stress. Setting and abiding by clear boundaries can reduce this conflict. Whether it's from ourselves or others, pressure to work when you're not feeling 100% can be damaging in the long run. Implementing boundaries helps cement the importance of self-care and promotes workplace wellbeing.
A good starting point is to clearly define between work and home life. It is easy to let the amount of work dictate the length of your day, but this will negatively impact your healthy work/life balance.
Set your work time and prioritise tasks starting with the most important. Be disciplined about stopping once the time is completed - you can pick up where you left off next time. You will need to be flexible; while it is busy all year round, there are even busier periods in every academic year, when there is simply even more to be done and likely working hours may need to be longer - for example, report writing or during assessments and mock examinations.
Leaders can set or at least encourage boundaries on in-school working hours and working from home. Make acceptable working hours a part of the culture, embed them using a coaching approach, with leaders also modelling them. Failure to do this can have significant consequences, leading to staff working under too much pressure, causing increased absence due to stress, and ultimately staff leaving.
Being disciplined about working hours is not always easy, and for many, it needs to be learned. It is important to recognise, that in most cases - even though it may not always feel like it - it is up to you to choose the hours you work.
Here are some points to consider when setting boundaries:
• Schedule uninterrupted time for specific work or tasks and adhere to it (barring an emergency)
• Establish clear expectations about acceptable practices and conduct between staff
• Avoid interactions with colleagues who reduce your effectiveness, and as a leader coach those staff members who have a negative impact on others
• At home, keep work out of your bedroom and personal living areas
• Learn to say no, agree to tasks within your professional skills and abilities, and have effective conversations if asked to take on activities outside these
• Plan how you will manage additional responsibilities that might adversely affect contracted duties
Time and Communication
• Set times to read and respond to communications and agree an acceptable response time
• Ensure communication and expectations are clear and delivered through the right media
• Be ruthless with your time – create opportunities for breaks and non-work conversations, but limit time spent on non-work related talk during scheduled work time.
Common misconceptions about workplace boundaries for leaders include: ‘Staff will think I'm not working hard’, or ‘Co-workers will resent the way I work’. However, remember this is a key skill to better manage your workload, and help support others with managing theirs. It demonstrates you take your responsibilities as a leader seriously, and enhances your performance, productivity, and workplace relationships.
Setting and adhering to boundaries is an important step in looking after your own and others’ wellbeing – it reduces stress, anxiety, and discomfort, and provides greater clarity about expectations and ‘how we work here’. Boundaries need to be flexible and change in response to specific needs, situations, people, roles, and time of year.
How you communicate these, as an individual or within an organisation is also important. It’s not necessary for a formal announcement or to inform anyone in a particular way. Add your contactable hours to your email signature, use the automatic ‘out of office’ reply to notify people as to when you will respond, or politely let colleagues know when you are available if they are interrupting you at an inappropriate time.
Being consistent with your boundaries, helps others become accustomed to them, which will benefit you in the long run. Setting reminders for when it’s time to go home, or time to stop working when you are at home, helps to implement them.
The benefits of boundaries
Boundaries help to provide clarity about what is expected and how it will be delivered. This helps avoid potential exploitation by others, builds trust, and mutual respect, and improves relationships between colleagues, managers, and leaders. Boundaries also maintain autonomy and a sense of self, provide a healthy divide between professional and personal life, boost overall wellbeing, protect against burnout, and increase performance.
Like most leadership skills, the ability to set and uphold boundaries — and relax them when necessary — is something that can be learned and practised. It may take a while to become comfortable with new ones, and for others to adjust to them, but the long-term benefits are worth it.
For further information, support, and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact welbee.international.