The education system employs millions of people including teachers, school administrators, support staff, transportation staff, school-based health professionals and more. School-based employees are unable to do their job successfully if they are not well. Faculty, staff, and school-based health professionals are experiencing burnout. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes that burnout is a work-related condition conceptualized by exhaustion, cynicism, and sense of low personal accomplishment. In an effort to prevent employee burnout, schools should consider implementing an employee wellness program. An employee wellness program demonstrates that all employees are valued and essential to the school community.
Some potential benefits of an employee wellness programs include:
- Decreased staff absenteeism
- Lower health care and insurance costs
- Improved staff morale
- Fewer work-related injuries
- Fewer work compensation and disability claims
- Increased staff productivity
- Increased motivation to practice healthy behaviors
- Healthy role models for students
The physical, mental, and emotional health of school employees is integral to promoting the health and wellness of students to ensure academic success. Employee wellness programs can help limit the impact of burnout and improve the overall school environment. Healthy schools start with healthy staff members. When the school environment is healthy for staff, students are likely to thrive.
Establishing an Employee Wellness Program
There are several ways to initiate an employee wellness program in the school setting. Some of the first steps include:
- Obtaining administrative support
- Gathering resources to support programing
- Identifying a leader that will guide the programming
- Organizing a committee to support programing
- Gathering and analyzing data
- Developing and implementing a plan for programming
- Evaluating and adapting the program to fit the needs of staff
- Developing a sustainability plan for the program
School-Based Health Professionals Supporting Wellness Programs
The term school-based health professional can include physicians, nurses, physician assistants, mental health experts, and health educators. School-based health professionals can provide a variety of valuable resources and /or services to employee wellness programs, including:
- Becoming a member of the employee wellness team
- Providing guidance on how to identify health issues impacting employees and identifying resources available in the community to support programming
- Delivering prevention services including influenza vaccinations
- Conduct health and wellness screenings for school employees
- Provide resources and education materials
- Organize workshops that address the health and wellness concerns of school employees
Role of the Pediatrician
There is a role for pediatricians in ensuring the health and wellness of school staff. Pediatricians can support school employee wellness programs by:
- Reaching out to the local school and determining if there is an employee wellness program
- Providing expertise to schools by offering to be a resource by
- Sitting on the wellness committee,
- Providing educational sessions,
- Assisting with health screenings,
- Providing resources to school community members.
Supporting School Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic
School employees have been greatly impacted by the additional stress brought on by the of COVID-19 pandemic. There are ways to provide support to school employees and school-based health professionals during this trying time, including:
- Acknowledging and Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Staff
- Create safe spaces where employees can share their thoughts and feelings without fear. Establishing supportive environments for employees to share their challenges and concerns can build trust among colleagues and identify essential needs of team members.
- If applicable, circulate information on the school employee assistance program and any other services that support mental and behavioral health.
- Identify and implement evidence-based interventions that support the social and emotional well-being of employees.
- Encourage employees to prioritize their personal health and wellness including knowing when to ask for help.
- For more information on mental health for staff, please review the AAP’s COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools.
- Communicate and Practice Safety
- Staying up-to-date on COVID-19 prevention strategies and regularly sharing this information to employees.
- Appropriately display proper hygiene techniques and social distancing practices for staff and students returning to in-person learning.
- The AAP’s COVID-19 School Guidance has current guidance and best practices to support staff safety.
- Review District Policies and Practices
- Provide opportunities for employees to review policies and guidelines that support employee health and wellness.
- Familiarize employees on how to report grievances related to work place harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Tip Sheets for School Faculty, Staff and School-Based Health Professionals
Guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on addressing school employee wellness and tips to support staff in a virtual setting.
This AAP tip-sheet defines burnout for a physician and its causes.
The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors created this guide for districts and schools to use to start or expand an employee wellness program that can benefit both employees and students. The guide includes worksheets, tools and additional resources for each step of the process.
For more information on school health review the AAP School Health Policy & Practice, 7th Edition.
This toolkit designed to increase the capacity of district and school staff in addressing school employee wellness, to improve the health of all school employees, and to improve student health and academic outcomes.
This toolkit organizes research-based information and practical tools in a user-friendly format that school systems can use to develop and implement a plan to advance the wellness of all school employees.
American Academy of Pediatrics