Take Control of Your Wellbeing During Covid-19
The NASUWT has a long history of supporting members to improve and take control of their wellbeing and this has been true throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The wider reopening of schools will understandably be a cause for concern and anxiety for many members. The NASUWT has been constantly challenging the Government in order to improve the mitigations in schools and colleges thereby making them safer.
Central to making schools safer is the risk assessment process and your school should have a comprehensive risk assessment in place. The NASUWT has extensive advice on risk assessment which can be found on our Covid-19 Advice pages. This includes the steps to take should risk assessments fail to be sufficient.
It is understandable, however, that some members will have concerns around returning to school even where a comprehensive risk assessment is in place. This is a natural reaction to the circumstances and it is likely that many, if not the vast majority, of members will be feeling some trepidation ahead of the wider reopening. It is important, therefore, that these concerns or anxieties are shared with line managers/headteachers. If issues are not raised, they cannot be addressed and good employers will welcome this feedback in order to review and adapt arrangements.
It should also be remembered that work-related stress, anxiety and depression may be related to Covid-19, but only tangentially. It may be that the increased workload due to Covid-19 is the cause, rather than Covid-19 itself.
Members who are feeling anxious about returning should also enquire about any employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that your employer may offer.
We recognise that some members may still experience high levels of anxiety about returning to the classroom, even where a school has all the control measures in place. This is a completely normal reaction to what is a very unusual and often stressful situation. It is widely recognised that the physical and mental health of the profession has been badly affected by the pandemic.
The NASUWT’s long-standing advice to any member in this position is to seek advice from your GP for support if you feel you are unable to return to work. Your health and wellbeing must be your top priority. The NASUWT sadly has far too many examples of members who ‘soldiered on’ and were too strong for too long, which resulted in a much more prolonged absence.
Although a GP’s note is not required until the eighth calendar day of absence, it is often beneficial to discuss the situation with a doctor at the point of absence as they may be able to suggest either adjustments at work and/or further referrals, particularly if a diagnosis of work-related stress, anxiety or depression is made. A referral to Occupational Health can also be beneficial and supportive to addressing concerns in the workplace and facilitating a return. Absence also gives time for the employer to resolve any outstanding concerns around the workplace which can then facilitate a return.
Members can also contact Education Support for free, confidential counselling irrespective of whether absence has occurred.
Employers should respond sympathetically to work-related stress/anxiety absence and there should be dialogue in order to try to address the underlying issues. It is not appropriate for the employer to ignore your absence and leave you off work without contact - this will do nothing to address the concerns or facilitate your return to the workplace. Likewise, an employer should not take immediate punitive action due to work-related stress/anxiety absence. Whilst long-term absence needs to be managed, Covid-related anxiety can be a short-term absence provided the employer responds appropriately.
If you have concerns about the response of the employer, which could include being invited to a formal review meeting, you should contact the NASUWT for further advice.