Image of Jay Nash
Jay Nash
Director of HR, Teach First

Creating wellbeing and work life balance

This week is National Work Life Week. Our Director of HR Jay Nash looks at what we're doing to promote a balanced life every week of the year, and why it's about more than flexible working.

This week is National Work Life Week – an annual campaign run by the Working Families organisation. It’s a week for employers and employees to focus on wellbeing and work life balance. Here at Teach First we’re putting on a host of sessions to get us thinking about how we can live and work well.

But work life balance goes beyond a week of activity and thinking about what we as individuals can do. It’s about what we’re doing day in, day out, to create a culture where everyone can bring their whole self to work. Where everyone can succeed because they can perform, grow and contribute.

Being entirely yourself at work is fundamental. Maintaining a mask takes its toll on our wellbeing, balance and life outside of work. The environment we – as an employer – create plays a huge part in people feeling comfortable to come to work without a mask.

So, what are we doing about it?

1.    Improving diversity and inclusion

Our work life week is being co-hosted by our employee-led affinity groups. (More info on those groups at the bottom of our Diversity and Inclusion page.) This means the week is focused on how we can bring our whole selves to work and support others to do so by being allies in the workplace.

There’s always more we can do to improve our diversity and inclusion. We’ve made some changes to what we do as an employer and programme provider. For example:

  • We’ve introduced blind screening. When anyone applies to us we cannot see any identifying features, including ethnicity, age or gender when making decisions about who makes it to interview or the next stage of assessment. 
  • For our most senior roles, we know we need greater diversity. For those roles we insist on shortlists which are diverse. At least 30% of candidates invited to interview will be from historically underrepresented groups. 
  • For our training programme we’ve introduced contextual recruitment. This means we take into account someone’s circumstances as well as their academic results. 
  • In our own workforce we’ve focused on our apprenticeship offer and removed the need to have a degree from all our job descriptions unless absolutely necessary.

But there’s lots we can learn from others. So, we’re benchmarking. One is the social mobility employer index. From the Social Mobility Foundation, it ranks Britain’s employers on the actions they’re taking to ensure they’re open to accessing and progressing talented people from all class backgrounds. 

Today we’ve been named in the top 75 UK employers who’ve taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. Our detailed report from the index validates what we’ve done well. But is also a great reminder of what more we’ve to learn on this aspect of diversity. Especially on how the interplay of socio-economic background, ethnicity and gender can lead to a double disadvantage when we look at people’s opportunities. 

Transparency is a foundational step in improving diversity, so we’ll soon publish the data we hold on the diversity of our workforce.

2.    Being a flexible employer

We judge performance based on outcomes and impact. Not presenteeism.

On our employee survey we ask people what’s the best bit about working at Teach First, one word comes through strong. Trust.

We’re building a culture that encourages agile working practices to achieve work life balance This is our default. It gives our people control – on where and how they do their work and autonomy to make decisions. It also allows people to head to a gym class, to leave early to travel to see friends or family or for parents to choose to pick up their kids from school and much more.

As long as they achieve their goals and work in a way which helps others succeed, we’re happy. And it’s likely so are they. We know having more control helps people manage stress. If we can give people back some control, they can create balance for themselves. 

Some people need a more regular pattern. So, we have formal flexible working where people can protect a particular pattern. We make more than 70 different working patterns happen. It’s open to everyone to request from day one. When we advertise, we start from the position where all roles are flexible.

3.    Supporting families

Flexibility helps all employees live and work better, but it undoubtedly helps our working parents. Family life is important, so we invest in one of the best packages for working parents in the UK charity sector. And we were proud to recently be shortlisted for the Working Mums Top Employer Awards in the Family Support Category.

There’s a mental load which comes from looking after your family – whether that’s children, aging parents or caring for another family member. We always go above and beyond the statutory requirements. And publish our family policies for all to see on our working at Teach First webpages. We know whether you’ve got a family, or planning one in the future, these are important pieces of support to know about. And they’re not always ones people feel comfortable asking a prospective employer for. So, we don’t want anyone to have to ask.

4.    Providing mental health and wellbeing support

All I’ve mentioned so far helps with our mental health – creating an inclusive workplace, giving people control of how and when they work and helping people to support their families. But there is specific work to be done on mental health too.

According to Mind more than one in five (21 per cent) people said they’d called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress affected them. But when we’re looking at people as whole individuals, rather than simply employees, we see there’s so much that impacts on someone’s mental health.

This week, on World Mental Health Day, we’re launching a new network of mental health first aiders. Just as all our offices have a physical first aider, we want all our offices to have a mental health first aider. It’s crucial to have a trained person who can spot the signs someone is experiencing difficulties, or someone can approach for help.

This is just part of our overall support to employees on mental health. We’ve built up a number of ways our employees can get the support they need in a way that fits their needs, without creating additional stress.

This includes manager awareness training, an employee assistance programme, tailored mental health support and counselling (accessed through our private healthcare plan) and 24/7 online support via the Big White Wall.

Reducing the stigma of talking about mental health and asking for help is vital in providing support and creating an environment where people can show up as they are. That’s why I was so happy to see a series of internal blogs we’ll publish this week from our employees who’ve felt able to share openly their own experiences and challenges with their mental health. We’re continuing our work to normalise conversations about mental health and our new network of mental health first aiders will be integral to this.

I hope the normalising of speaking about mental health will help our employees show up as themselves. Opening the door to more balance and fulfilment in all aspects of life.

So, in summary our four key focuses for creating wellbeing:

1.    Improve diversity and inclusion
2.    Be a flexible employer
3.    Support families
4.    Provide mental health support

None of these alone is enough. If we commit to all four of these things and to continually challenging ourselves to improve in these areas, then we empower our people to be themselves at work.

And, if we’re honest, that must be the aim of any wellbeing work we do; empowering our people to find more balance and fulfilment so we can do the best work of our lives, as we build a fair education for all.

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