Why your school needs to sign the staff wellbeing charter

Last year, the UK government published its staff wellbeing charter for the education sector to combat increasing stress.

A tool for state education providers, the charter provides clear guidance on ways to help raise awareness around mental health issues and promote wellbeing among full-time and part-time staff.

The charter is a collective effort, the brainchild of multiple education sector specialists including several UK schools and colleges, and unions NASUWT, NEU, ASCL, NAHT, Voice Community and Unison. Leading mental health organisation MIND also contributed to its design and development.

First published in May 2021, with updates released in November of the same year, all state schools in the UK can sign up with no deadline by which to do so. While entirely voluntary, schools are encouraged to participate – first, to show their commitment to their staff and also, to demonstrate publicly they are supporting initiatives relating to mental health, something parents and education bodies such as Ofsted are keen to see.

Read more about the staff wellbeing charter at the UK government webpage.

Ongoing challenges for staff wellbeing in education

The charter is timely, with mental health issues reportedly rising across society as a whole – and indeed, within education.

For a long time, staff in the sector have talked about the negative impact low morale has on their mental health. Mixed reasons such as poor pay and working conditions and increasing expectations beyond the classroom make it difficult to retain or attract people to the profession. And all of this before Covid emerged, bringing added challenges through social distancing and the constant switching to and from class-based and online learning.

Benefits of the staff wellbeing charter

The charter provides multiple benefits to the staff body and your entire school.

Immediately, your staff will feel supported, resulting in greater performance. In turn, this lifts the morale across your facility and leads to improved staff productivity from the ground up. With a happier workforce, you’ll have fewer issues to face on a day-to-day basis and less staff taking time away from work due to stress-related illness. You are also more likely to retain staff since they can see clearly how their wellbeing is your priority.

Your commitment as a school

By signing the charter, your school sends an immediate message to staff that you care. Of course, a set of actions needs to follow to show you fully support staff wellbeing and are not simply paying lip service to the charter. There are several ways you can do so:

  • Educate staff about the tools available and how to access them; and make sure departmental managers are aware of these supporting tools
  • Promote flexible working wherever you can
  • Implement process efficiency across the school to drive down unnecessary tasks
  • Have open conversations about out-of-hours working and ways to minimise it
  • Demonstrate how you are giving mental health equal footing to physical health
  • Provide a forum for staff to feedback regularly about wellbeing and feelings of stress

Will the wellbeing charter cause more work for your school?

In short, no. Both the DfE and Ofsted are committed to helping schools integrate the charter with minimal effort through a number of initiatives, including:

  • Reducing unnecessary workload – a common factor among teachers dealing with stress
  • Embedding mental health into CPD and teacher training to raise awareness
  • Improving the mental health and wellbeing resources available to schools

Further, Ofsted has agreed to consider staff wellbeing when assessing a school and has clarified that they require no extra documentation as part of their inspection.

How to sign up to the wellbeing charter

There is no mandate to join the charter, and sign up is voluntary. However, joining the wellbeing charter means you can expect more positive outcomes for everyone.

When you are ready to sign up, email wellbeing.charter@education.gov.uk  with the following information:

  • Your school or college Unique Reference Number (URN)
  • Establishment name and postcode

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

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Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

On March 22, the UK reflected on a year living with the coronavirus.

Back in 2020, as the virus spread rapidly across Europe and the UK Government announced our first national lockdown, it’s unlikely any of us thought we would continue to undergo the strict regime that followed. The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating with individuals and families having to cope with death, long-term illness caused by the virus and temporary or permanent work losses. It’s not surprising to learn how the figures for people suffering from mental health issues during this time have dramatically increased.

When we were first asked a year ago to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’, including working from home wherever possible, many people were thankful for the respite from the daily grind of prepping for work, the hectic morning regime, strict time-keeping and a lengthy and costly commute to the office. Virtual meetings soon replaced physical ones in the diary and everyone learned to live with having to perform their role remotely. Now, while some seemingly took to this new life like a duck to water, for others it has been nothing shy of a slog from day one. And for all who did kick things off last March feeling OK, how are these individuals feeling a year later and how are you managing mental health in the workplace?

A recent survey from the Office for National Statistics found the number of adults feeling anxious or depressed has doubled since February 2020, before the pandemic began. It’s an astonishing figure and certainly, an issue the government, health bodies and UK businesses must tackle head-on to provide the support much of the adult population currently needs. Perhaps even more worrying is that this figure is likely much higher than reported, with many suffering in silence either because they don’t understand in full what the term mental health represents or they assume it applies to others and not themselves. After all, their feelings might be a little different to usual but they’re nothing to be concerned about or worth mentioning to anyone else.

Employers and HR specialists play a crucial role in supporting their teams through all manner of circumstances, especially so when mental health and wellbeing come into focus. Here are a few pointers

Raising Mental Health awareness

Not everyone understands what we mean by mental health, or if they do, think it applies to others and not them because they feel OK or, what they consider to be ‘normal’. By raising awareness of the topic, you’re at the very least making a once-over taboo subject much easier for people within your workplace to discuss openly, allowing them to understand in full what is meant by the term and encouraging them to consider their feelings as well as those of their colleagues. While an individual is feeling OK, they could have noticed a difference in the behaviour of a colleague, and knowing how to recognise the signs of anxiety or depression allows others to help.

Gain advice and support from experts

If you have limited time or in-house resources to upskill your staff on mental health, an external provider can help you. There are lots of organisations that offer training on mental health either to managers or your entire workforce. Here at Optimal we provide well-being reviews for which helps employers to gain a better understanding of how their employees are feeling and by providing it through a third party organisation like ourselves, it often enables employees to say much more than they maybe would if it was being undertaken by an internal team.  Organisations such as Unmasked Mental Health & Well-Being Ltd provides excellent face-to-face or virtual training to organisations across the UK and their charitable organisation Unmasked Mental Health has a fantastic, easily accessible and affordable counselling support service amongst other things, for individuals suffering from mental health issues.

Check-in frequently with your team

Unless you’re working in one of the emergency services, or a sector which has become busier than ever during the pandemic – food manufacturing, pharma, logistics, care, education – it’s likely your staff has spent much if not all of the past twelve months working from home. While some will have revelled in the experience, many have found it tough to manage without their peers on tap each day for support. As a people manager, it is up to you to ensure your workforce has lots of opportunities to check-in and chat – as a group, as well as individually – to ask how they’re going and offer your support., if you do find an individual is struggling to cope, make provision for them to attend work physically if they can.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)…. does this affect you?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during winter, although a few people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Social problems, irritability, not wanting to see people
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
  • Anxiety, inability to cope

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities. You can read more about the symptoms of SAD.

When to see your GP

You should consider seeing your GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope. Your GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of autumn and winter. Our bodies are tuned in to the daylight hours in order to maintain our circadian rhythms. These rhythms regulate many important bodily functions and without the correct daylight signals at the correct time this can have significant affects on your wellbeing. Circadian Rhythms help to regulate and control; food digestion, appetite for food, energy levels, sleep duration and quality, and also our mood. Circadian Rhythms are effectively your body’s internal clock but in modern society we spend a lot of time indoors and our bodies are therefore missing out on these signals.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • Production of melatonin– melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. It is thought the body may produce melatonin in higher than normal levels in people with SAD.
  • Production of serotonin– serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Treatment for SAD

There are different treatments available that your GP will be able to discuss with you.

Some options include Light Therapy, Counselling and psychodynamic psychotherapy, CBT and medication.

Things you can try yourself

There are a number of simple things you can try that may help improve your symptoms, including:

  • try to get as much natural sunlight as possible – even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial
  • make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible
  • sit near windows when you’re indoors
  • take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight – read more about exercise for depression
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • take steps to manage stress

It can also be helpful to talk to your family and friends about SAD, so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. This can help them to support you more effectively.

If you are a manager and would like to discuss ways of maintaining employee wellbeing all year round then get in touch  by emailing enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk or call us on 01422 897152 and we would be happy to discuss.

How to protect our Mental Health this festive period

Sometimes, we think of wellbeing in terms of what we have: our income, our home or car, or our job. But evidence shows that what we do and the way we think have the biggest impact on mental wellbeing. It’s the time of the year where people can start to feel unwell both physically and mentally, so I wanted to share a few tips of what I think helps.


The food we eat plays a big part in how we feel both physically and mentally. It’s the time of year we start to indulge more, and we can forget the impact this can have. I’m not going to ask you to stop indulging but I am going to suggest you make sure you are still eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg to keep topped up with all those vital vitamins and minerals.


Being active is great for your physical health and fitness. But evidence shows that it can also improve your mental wellbeing. Many people think that the mind and body are separate. But what you do with your body can have a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing. Most people think exercise requires a gym or specialist equipment, but it doesn’t always need to. There are now lots of videos and tutorials you can watch and participate in from the comfort of your own home. Any physical activity even walking can be beneficial but why not try something that is fun and enjoyable for you. You could play a sport, get your dancing shoes on or go on a bike ride.


Christmas can put a strain on finances but it’s important to remember what the season is all about and not focus so much on material things. Could you make homemade gifts rather than buy from a store, I’m sure your loved ones would appreciate the effort and the thought that goes into it. Could the adults agree to just focus on the children this year and not buy gifts for each other, or maybe a Secret Santa pool would be a good option rather than all buying gifts for everyone.


When it comes to wellbeing, other people matter. Evidence shows that good relationships – with family, friends and the wider community are important for mental wellbeing. The Festive period is a great time to re connect and meet up with your loved ones. Why not invite an old friend for a coffee and a catch up or go for a walk in the beautiful Autumn scenery?

Remember that you do not need to spend time with people who make you feel unhappy. If there are any toxic people in your life it might be worth reviewing this and seeing if you need to distance yourself from them.

Give to others

Most people would agree that giving to others is good in itself. But it can also improve your mental wellbeing. This doesn’t just mean giving financially, small acts of kindness towards other people, can give you a sense of purpose and make you feel happier and more satisfied about life.

Helping and supporting other people, and working with others towards a shared goal, is good for our mental wellbeing. You could volunteer in your local community, offer to cook for a friend, or why not group this with exercise and offer to walk a friend’s dog if you know they have a busy schedule or are feeling under the weather.

If you would like to discuss wellbeing in your organisation please contact Optimal PBS’s Learning and Development Consultant and MHFA England Instructor, Kim Fidler, on 07487 512 928 or kim@optimal-hr.co.uk

Not all suicidal people want to die

Trigger Warning: In this blog we talk about suicide which could be upsetting for some people. if you have recently been affected by suicide now might not be the best time to read this post. If you require immediate support we would recommend you contact the Samaritans, you can call anytime for Free: 116123 or email: jo@samaritans.org

Does that statement shock or confuse you?
Seems odd doesn’t it that someone would end their life if they didn’t actually want to die, but sadly this can be the case. So I will say it again.

Not all suicidal people want to die; they simply don’t want to live with the pain they experience any longer.

Most suicidal people are at a crisis point and are not sure what else to do. They may feel that suicide will be an end to their pain. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to live anymore, it just means they feel they cannot carry on as they are.

I’m writing this blog because every time I see a suicide attempt or person in crisis in a public place such as a train station reported in the media it is often followed by very negative and quite damaging comments. Here are some examples that horrified me this week!

“I hate selfish people who do this and inconvenience others”
“I’m sick of these cries for help, just get it over with already”

Can you imagine reading or hearing that when you are most at need?

Can you imagine if that was your friend or family member and a complete stranger said similar comments? How would you feel?

It was clear to me from reading these comments that the persons writing them did not understand suicide. So I’m going to try and dispel some myths around suicide and hopefully help change mindsets so that we can try help people when they need us the most.

Myth 1: Once someone is seriously considering suicide, there is nothing you can do.
Most suicidal crises are time-limited based on unclear thinking. People attempting suicide want to escape their problems. Instead they need to confront their problems directly in order to find other solutions. Solutions which can be found with the help of concerned individuals who support them through the crisis period, until they are able to think more clearly.

Myth 2: If you ask a person about their suicidal intentions, you will encourage the person to kill themselves. 
The opposite is true. Asking someone directly about their suicidal feelings will often lower their anxiety level and act as a deterrent. The crisis and resulting emotional distress will already have triggered the thought in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about suicide will allow the person experiencing pain to talk about the problems which can reduce their anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.

Myth 3: People who talk about suicide don’t complete suicide.
Eight out of Ten people who take their own lives give warning signs of their suicidal intentions. People who make suicidal threats and attempts must be taken seriously.

Myth 4: A person who attempts suicide will always be ‘suicidal’
Most people who are at risk feel suicidal for only a brief period in their lives. With proper assistance and support they will probably never be suicidal again.

Myth 5: Suicidal people are fully intent on dying. 
Most suicidal people are often undecided, often right up until the last minute, about living or dying, and they may ‘gamble with death’, leaving it up to others to save them. Few people take their own life without first letting others know how they are feeling. This cry for help is often given in code. If recognised, these distress signals can be used to save lives. Some warning signs might be:

• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious and/or agitated
• Engaging in reckless behaviour
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

Myth 6: Improvement following a suicidal crisis means the risk of suicide is over. 
Most suicides occur within three months after the onset period of ‘improvement’, when people have the energy to turn suicidal thoughts and feelings into action. Relatives and physicians should be especially vigilant during this period of time.

Myth 7: Suicide occurs more frequently among certain classes of people.
Suicide is neither a rich man’s disease nor a poor man’s curse. Showing no class prejudice, suicide is represented proportionately in all strata of society.

Myth 8: If a person really wants to kill themselves, no one has the right to stop them. 
Just because suicide implies voluntary action that does not mean that the person really wants to die. More often than not, a suicidal person simply wants to escape from pain and even though they may not realise this, death is not the only answer. Chances are the person does not have to die for the pain to stop.

These myths may influence how we see and treat a person experiencing suicidal thoughts, but also whether we see ourselves as capable of making a difference. Suicide is preventable and openly talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a live.

I hope this has helped to change some beliefs and attitudes towards suicide.

Although a serious topic suicide is not something we should shy away from. We should not underestimate our abilities to help a suicidal person, and possibly save a live. If you ever find yourself in this situation try remain calm and no matter how shocking the situation may seem listen and communicate non judgmentally at all times and refrain from making assumptions. Seek further assistance if you do not feel able to support the person on your own.

If we encounter suicidal thoughts ourselves there are coping skills, we can use to help us overcome this.

Get out for a while:

  • Go for a walk, jog or bike ride
  • Go to the movies
  • Visit somewhere new, like a cafe, library, museum or park

Be creative:

  • Draw something simple
  • Make a nice meal
  • Write a short story

Soothe your senses:

  • Meditate or do yoga
  • Take a hot shower
  • Listen to your favourite songs


  • Look at the clouds
  • Read a book, magazine or blog post
  • Take a nap

For further information about this topic I have added some useful resources below.

If you have been directly affected, I would recommend you seek support as soon as you can.

Support for self:
Samaritans: www.samaritans.org Call anytime for Free: 116123 email jo@samaritans.org

Supporting others:
Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/

Support after suicide:
Papyrus UK: https://papyrus-uk.org/suicide-bereavement-support/