Wellbeing and the 6-day working week

Wellbeing and the 6-day working week

One of the wonderful things about the easing of Covid regulations has been the ability to get into schools again and work with staff and school leaders on wellbeing and supporting under pressure staff to be the best that they can be, both in a professional and personal sense.

During one of those conversations, a senior leader said to me that they are so busy in school that they have given themselves Saturday off and are resigned to the fact that if they are to be ready to face the challenges of Monday, then Sunday will have to be a working day.

Cast our minds back two hundred years to Victorian times and it was expected that an employee would work 6 days a week with Sunday off to go to church. In many ways, little has changed in education in terms of working conditions and maybe we ought to be questioning a 6-day working week. As a Head, I had no problem working a 6-day week every now and again, but it seems to have become the norm in many cases. As staff and budgets are cut back, there is more to do for everyone in schools.

However, the implications of a regular 6 day working week will be picked up in tiredness and fatigue which may see school staff leaving the profession either through choice or ill health.

The notion that we can do everything we are asked to do in school, (which has increased year on year) typified by the “Whatever it Takes” mantra which undermines health, wellbeing and any form of work-life balance needs to be challenged for the sake of the staff in our schools.

I recently had a conversation with John Brady, one of our Directors at Schools Advisory Service, and he said that we need to focus on “What Matters Most.” His views are supported in a podcast by Dr Rangan Chatterjee which you can listen to here: https://drchatterjee.com/how-to-stop-feeling-overwhelmed-with-oliver-burkeman/

Oliver Burkeman talks about our (average) four thousand weeks on the planet as a human being and the fact that, as finite beings, we have a limited amount of time on the planet and yet an infinite list of things that we’d like to do to change the world that we live in; far too many to get through.

He then goes on to compare this to the working week with a finite number of hours we can work but an infinite list of work to be done.

His advice is that we need to focus on “What Matters Most” and even then, there will be things we want to do but simply have to choose not to do as there just isn’t time.

Essentially, what Oliver is saying is that we have to make the tough calls ourselves as time is limited. We can tell ourselves that time management strategies are “a back door” to getting more done but really, we are kidding ourselves.

In a school context, I’ve been talking to staff in schools more recently about being judicious with their time and making judgement calls on enough being enough. No-one will tell us where to draw the line in terms of work as that line is a personal decision, however I think it is reasonable to expect the lion share of your weekend to be yours; to rest, recover and take care of your wellbeing in the way you see fit, so that one week’s work doesn’t roll into the next.

The hours worked each week vs the time for wellbeing is currently, for most in school, unsustainable in the long term. It’s one of the reasons why staff in school struggle to half term and then fall ill as their health and wellbeing has largely been neglected for 6/7 weeks. SAS absence data has shown this trend for years in schools.

All of us need time away from work and the notion of a weekend is what the weekend was designed to do. Whilst researching this blog I came across an article on the origins of the 48-hour weekend break.

It goes on to say that “employers found that the full Saturday and Sunday break reduced absenteeism and improved efficiency.”

So back in the 1930’s when the weekend was first introduced, employers were aware that there were real wellbeing benefits for employees, “to enhance their education and leisure pursuits.”

There are clear wellbeing benefits from getting a break at the weekend and it is in place for the very reasons that we need it today.

The work in school is infinite and our time finite so do what matters most and yes make some tough decisions not to do some things that you’d like to do. Even when working all weekend there’ll still be things to do.

Prioritising your wellbeing at the weekend will help to make you happier and more efficient when in school.


To discuss how SAS can support the wellbeing of you and your whole school community, get in touch on

askandy@uk-sas.co.uk or visit the Ask Andy section of our website.

Ask Andy - school leadership & pastoral support