Addressing the issue of staff wellbeing in Higher Education

A conference held at London Met welcomed sector-wide colleagues to share thoughts and ideas about how to improve staff wellbeing and attitudes towards mental health in Higher Education.
Date: 9 July 2018

Staff from universities in the UK gathered at London Metropolitan University on Wednesday 4 July to discuss the importance of staff health and wellbeing and how to move forward constructively as a sector.

More than 100 representatives from over 40 UK universities attended the conference to discuss this important and highly topical subject. Chaired and organised by Vida Douglas, former lecturer in Social Work BSc at London Met, who now teaches at Brunel University London, the conference invited papers, research and thought-provoking discussions from colleagues across the sector.

“It’s important that we start the conversation about addressing the health and wellbeing of all staff, not just from within our own institutions, but across the wider sector,” said Vida.

“Mental health and wellbeing is a topic which I am passionate about – so much so, I’m doing my PhD on it!

“It’s about how people experience wellbeing positively...it’s dangerous to think otherwise! There needs to be a wellbeing policy in Higher Education and that’s why I think it’s important to start this conversation.”

The conference was opened by Professor John Raftery, London Met’s Vice-Chancellor, who said: “Mental health is an important issue and mental health in Higher Education faces very different challenges compared to other sectors. We want to help people transform their lives and it’s important that we do it well.”

Academics from across the nation discussed topics such as how quickly change can be implemented, how the taboo of financial wellbeing can be broken, and the importance of switching off emails outside working hours.

One of the key recurring themes was: collaboration. Colleagues across the sector stressed the need to collaborate and work together in order to tackle this very important and serious issue.

“We need to create an environment where everybody in a university can recognise if someone is struggling [with mental health],” said Janet Metcalfe, Head of Vitae News.

Gail Kinman, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, presented her research which found that staff in Higher Education are struggling to cope with the rapid changes taking place in the sector. Some of the key influences include: a shrinking student to staff ratio and less control over the working environment. Her research found that a multi-level response is needed to create a sustainable intervention to tackle the stress of academic staff in higher education.

A series of parallel sessions were run throughout the day which invited attendees to select a session of their choice. The sessions covered topics such as an academic’s responsibility towards student mental health, how music can improve mental health and how to engage better working relationships in higher education.

Staff support at London Met
If you are a member of staff who is struggling, please contact your health and wellbeing department at your institution and speak to a professional who can help or advise you. London Met have a team of trained counsellors and personal development guiders who are always on hand to speak to London Met staff and students.

Going forward
The session ended with opening up the idea to creating a forum consisting of people working in Higher Education discussing and implementing tactics to address the issue of staff wellbeing in the sector. If you are interested in joining, please contact Vida Douglas [vida.douglas@brunel.ac.uk]

Social
You can join the social conversation by following the hashtag #Conf2018 or catching up with @LondonMetNews where a series of tweets and retweets were shared throughout the day.

With thanks to the following who contributed on the day:

  • Vida Douglas, lecturer at Brunel University of London
  • Professor Digby Warren, Associate Professor at London Metropolitan University
  • Dr Allister Butler, Head of Subject (Social Work) at London Metropolitan University
  • Dr Diana Beech, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute
  • Professor Gail Kinman, Professor at the University of Bedfordshire
  • Dr Giovanni Moneta, London Metropolitan University
  • Karen Smith, Head of Wellbeing at UCL
  • Dr Julie Mulliner, Assistant Director of HR at the University of Chester
  • Dr Janet Metcalfe, Head of Vitae
  • Dr Zara Whysall, Nottingham Trent University
  • Gedminte Mikulenaite, Policy Officer at Universities UK
  • Dr Nicola Bryom, Kings College London
  • Teresa Gomes Arrulo, London Metropolitan University
  • Dr Rachael Moss, University of Portsmouth
  • Dr Michelle Huws-Thomas, Cardiff University
  • Dr Clare Huxley, Institute of Employment
  • Dr Dawn Hamilton, Experienced trainer and coach