A very interesting conversation recently came up in a teacher’s Facebook group I’m part of. A teacher was asking for ideas for how to improve staff well-being and morale, with the hopes that this would lead to better teamwork.
From the conversation that ensued, it got me thinking about ‘well-being’ and ‘morale’ in general, and in school staff specifically. The person asking about these ideas didn’t seem to fully grasp that ‘well-being’ and ‘morale’ are two completely separate things, and that they are separate again from teamwork. Maybe she did get that, I’m not sure, but that’s not how it came across.
I mean, of course they are linked, but they don’t necessarily ensure each other. Just because someone rates themselves highly for well-being doesn’t mean they have high morale, or that they will work effectively and happily with a team. The converse is true too – just because someone has low well-being and morale doesn’t mean they won’t work effectively in a team. You can be a great team player, whilst simultaneously hating your job and being clinically depressed. You can also be a stellar mental health example, and be an awful teammate.
Either way, these topics are coming up more and more regularly in our schools. Not just in regard to our students (yep, it seems to be another thing we teachers are responsible for in our students), but also in regard to ourselves as teaching and non-teaching school staff.
Let’s start with this massive, sticky, buzzword of a concept. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how ‘well-being’ or ‘wellness’ has overtaken the internet, and seeped into so many aspects of our lives. You only need to take a very quick look at social media to witness the absolute magnitude of this industry – every second ‘social media influencer’ is trying to sell you their version of what you’re missing in your life. You may have even fallen into this trap yourself.
But what, exactly, is ‘well-being’?
The results from Googling ‘well-being definition’ are almost as massive as the wellness industry itself. Each product, service, guru, and pyramid scheme will tell you their version of what wellness is, and how their product/program will improve yours. Some even go so far as to say that their version of wellness is completely different to some other version.
Is ‘well-being’ different to ‘wellness’? Again, it’s very hard to say. Many sites claim they are the same thing, many others have very specific differentiation between the two terms. This, too, seems to be dependent on that purpose of the site, and whether they believe one term or the other better suits their audience. So for the purposes of these articles, we will use the term ‘wellness’ – please note that this is just a toss of the coin, and it could very well be exchanged for the term ‘well-being’.
The Google-box definition defines well-being as a “state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”.
Note the ‘or’.
A nice, vague, completely open definition. Accordingly, you can be perfectly healthy, but completely unhappy, and still rate high on a well-being scale.
Even searching through the literature produces a vast array of definitions. It seems the term wellness is quite fluid, changing subtly and not-so-subtly to suit the scenario in discussion. Heck, there’s even a branch of research looking at ‘cybersecurity wellness’. What I drew from my research into the literature is that the concepts of well-being and wellness are very much specific to the research question posed, the research method used, and the industry it is related to.
I think, therefore, if a school wants to improve well-being in any sort of way, it needs to first create or find a definition of well-being that suits it’s paradigm. It needs to decide exactly how vast or specific this definition should be, what goals or outcomes it hopes to address, and how that fits in with the individual people it will be applied to.
When you picture ‘high morale’ in your head, what do you see?
I see a team breaking up from a great, effective meeting, all but cheering. They are excited to get on with the tasks they have been set, are happy to do so, ready to get stuck in and be super effective and efficient.
When I picture ‘low morale’ I see people sitting dejectedly at desks, idling about.
The handy-dandy Google-box defines morale as “the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time.”
I’d like you to re-read this definition, and let each part of it sink in for a moment.
This definition might come as a bit of a surprise to some people. It seems to me that when people are referring to morale, they are thinking about people being happy about their job, their willingness to participate. I’ve never personally heard anyone discuss discipline as a component of that.
Again, the literature is heavily industry-dependent in terms of defining morale. Each sector defines it slightly differently, and applies it differently as well. The outcomes are all the same though – increase morale to increase your bottom line (whatever form that takes).
It’s no secret, sure, that increased staff morale results in increased effectiveness. And we all know that effectiveness, and morale (however you define it), ebb and flow throughout the day, week, month, year.
What Does It All Mean For Us?
So out of all this vague-ness and non-defining information, what exactly do these concepts mean for us as school staff?
If the past couple of years are anything to go by, it actually means school administration adding more onto our plates. Sure, it’s well-intended. But intention and impact are two completely different things.
We don’t need more morning teas, dress up themes, or lunch time games. We need actual, true support – support that looks different within each and every school, and should be driven by the teachers themselves.
What initiatives does your school have to address wellness and morale?