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. They provide opportunities for staff to raise any concerns they have or 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 in the current climate, as the pressure of working during coronavirus is likely to have exacerbated existing challenges.
There’s no one right way
It’s up to you to decide how to carry out welfare checks, as it’ll all depend on your school’s context. You might go for one-to-one check-ins with a clear schedule, or casual chats and a ‘buddy system’ that pairs staff with their peers. You could also consider having an initial meeting as part of your normal performance review process, and then a follow-up six months later (separate from the performance review). Meeting two to three times a year should be sufficient for staff to raise any issues without being overwhelmed by regular meetings.
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, and other communications).
- Do staff know who to talk to if they’re struggling with work-life balance?
- Do your school policies address mental health?
- Checks should be optional.
This means 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 to speak to an alternative manager, or to meet with another staff member present.
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. Be flexible with meeting times.
Create a list of discussion questions to guide your welfare checks and to help line managers structure the meeting. Make sure they fit your school’s context and cover areas such as wellbeing, managing stress, work-life balance and providing support.
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.
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. If you have a list of external sources of advice and support, share this before or during each welfare check, or distribute it more widely to staff.
Simon Clark is a Content Editor at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. The advice in this article is taken from The Key’s resource ‘How to run welfare checks for school staff’ – which they worked on with our associate education expert Lorraine Petersen.