The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Kimberley Evans

10 small interactions that make a big difference in the workplace

Improving working conditions and staff wellbeing doesn't always require financial resources. Kimberley Evans gives 10 actions that anyone can take to make a meaningful change.

Improving working conditions, staff wellbeing and happiness can often seem daunting, you don’t know where to start and it seems everything needs money you don’t have. You may also think you don’t have the power to have influence in these points.

Although those big-ticket items are important, you can also do many things easily yourself, and they are completely free.

Here are 10 things you can start doing today that will make a big difference, which don’t need any extra funding and can be done whatever your role within the school.

1. Say thank you

Let us start with something that is often overlooked: saying thank you. We might say it in passing, for things we are socially programmed to do, like when someone holds a door open, or if someone gives you something. But what about thanking a colleague for the work that they do day in and day out?

The normal stuff goes unnoticed. Or thanking a colleague for something they have done that is out of the ordinary. Seek the person out and say thank you. It really will make their day.

2. Stop and notice

This is actually about not interacting! This is taking the time to stop and notice what is going on around you.

What are staff doing at various times of the day? Where are they? What is their mood? Take this opportunity to learn about your staff. Who talks to who, is there anyone that seems very isolated, are certain people stressed?

You might notice that no one is in the staffroom at lunchtime, could that be that workload is too high or that the staffroom isn’t a nice place to be? Take a learning walk for yourself. Walk around the school at different times of the day, take notice of what you see and hear and take on board how this can help you support staff.

3. Enquire

'How was your weekend?' or 'What are you doing this evening?' These questions can be so powerful.

To start, the person you ask will feel they matter to you. Secondly, their response will tell you a lot about them as a person (their likes, dislikes, hobbies, family situation etc.) but also, how they answer will tell you about what it is like to work in your school.

If they reply to the first question with, 'Stressful, I was worried about the assessment this week!', think about what that tells you about your school. If their answer to the second question is, 'Nothing, I’ve got an hour's worth of marking to do!' then maybe your workload needs looking at.

4. Look at people

Put down your device, stop looking at your smartwatch notifications, look up from your screen and pay attention to what they are saying. This shows that you respect what the person is saying and the time they are giving you.

Such a simple way to increase trust and respect within your school. We are all busy, but staff deserve your full attention. Looking at someone when they are talking can also help you remember what they said so it helps your productivity.

5. Acts of kindness

Small acts of kindness can make a real difference to someone’s day, and they can come in various forms. They can be anonymous, like leaving a chocolate bar on someone’s desk with a note as to why it is there.

Or they can be simply helping someone out like doing someone’s duty for them. They can often also be helping, offering to help someone with a task that is causing them stress or just making someone a cup of tea.

6. Speak to them instead of emailing

This can be done on the phone, but even better if it is face-to-face. We often think that an email is quicker, but if it will result in an exchange of more than two emails, then often a conversation would be easier and quicker.

This also massively helps with the volume of emails that flood into our inboxes every hour, it can be very overwhelming. Speak to people again!

7. Don’t jump to conclusions

If someone snaps at you, before you label them as rude think about why they may have snapped. The next time a staff member slams a door, instead of berating them, ask if they would like to talk.

Staff are human beings, with lives of their own and feelings. Real feelings. Don’t belittle them but treat them as you would a student - all behaviour is communication. Now, this moment might not be the right time, but you need to support them instead of judging them.

8. Communicate

As a concept, it is a big one, but on a day-to-day basis, it is the small communications we do or don’t have that make a big difference to our day. Don’t assume that others know what you do, that they have been told or that they understand.

Always make the effort to effectively communicate change and requests. Not only will that ensure it is conducted or followed correctly, but it also shows respect for their time.

9. See the bigger picture

Before you ask someone to do something, take some time to consider what effect your request will have on them. What else do they have to do now? Is now the best time?

This applies to all manner of tasks from asking them to swap a duty to creating a new curriculum document. It might be the most important thing to you, but they may have had five other people ask them to do important tasks that same week.

10. Smile!

We’ll end with another seemingly obvious but often forgotten point. Remember to smile at other people!

It makes it easier to ask someone something if done with a smile, it lightens the mood and makes everyone’s day brighter too. Smile as you say hello, when you bid someone goodbye when you pass them in the corridors when you ask them to do something.

Many of these can become habits, to get you started I would suggest putting them in your diary to do at certain times of the day or leaving yourself little prompts. A sign on your monitor to remind you to look up, or an alarm to walk around the school. Let me know how you get on with this and what you learn and action from them.

Connect with Kimberley!



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