What to do when the work becomes overwhelming by Hilary Goldsmith

What to do when the Work Becomes Overwhelming By Hilary Goldsmith

There can be few, if any, of us who have not encountered a time in our professional lives when we have felt entirely overwhelmed. It can happen for any number of reasons; sometimes due to workload, challenging work situations, or sometimes it can be due to the pressures of life more generally, but such times are almost always when we most need to be at the top of our game.  

Stress is a peculiar thing in that it stops you from working effectively at the very time when your mind is telling you that more effective working is exactly what you need to be doing. However, the physical signs of the body's inability to cope tell us that our mental capacity to cope has already reached critical point. It is at times like this that we will typically reach out for help and support from friends and family, but it is just as important to reach out for support from others in our own profession who are most likely to understand exactly what we're going through.

It's often been said that school business leadership can be a lonely profession and many SBLs report feeling isolated in their roles at some time. When you combine this with the pressures of reduced funding, and the recruitment and wellbeing crises that are currently hitting the headlines in education, it's easy to see why so many school business leaders are reporting a sense of overwhelming frustration and stress.

There are lots of places to get support when times get tough, not just with the work itself, but support for you, as a leader, as a professional and as a human being.

  1. Speak to your headteacher. However hard it may be to admit that you’re struggling, be honest about the problems you’re facing before they begin to engulf you. Whatever your professional relationship, your Head has a duty of care to you as an employee, and should trust and respect you enough to know that when you say you’re at capacity that you’re not just whingeing about a busy day. An SBL is one of a school’s greatest assets, it’s vital that we take as much care of ourselves as we take of everything else of value in our schools.


  1. Your trade union. When you’re in a difficult and stressful situation, it’s very easy to lose perspective and to over-focus on minor details. It can also be tough to see anyone else’s point of view, or to find a way to move forward. Speaking to your trade union can be a hugely useful way of getting some independent advice from a professional who is trained to understand and support you. Trade unions are not just there to fight your corner in tricky HR situations, they can also advise, guide and mediate those times when you just don’t seem able to get your point across.


  1. No one will understand the stresses of SBL life more than other SBLs. Regional support groups, #SBLtwitter and other online communities offer exceptional support when you’re feeling bogged down, exhausted and in need of a friendly ear. Sometimes, just picking up the phone to the SBL in your neighbouring school can be enough to set you back on your feet. Never underestimate the power of peer support in a profession as unique as ours.


And finally, SBLs like to think they can do everything. They can’t. Much like Buckaroo, they can carry any number of weird and oddly shaped loads, but eventually that one extra item will be the one that will send them catapulting arse-skywards, scattering their overloaded saddlebags all over the place. So, don’t be a mule, know your limitations and know when to say enough’s enough.