Stress Awareness Week 2020: managing pressure in the pandemic

Working parents face unprecedented pressures balancing work and family under Covid-19. Yet a webinar at the Great International Education & Schools Fair shows international schools are stepping up their support.

Image of family in face masks struggling at airport
Work and home life have changed for many of us in recent months. Daily routines have become more difficult. Working remotely from home during lockdown has made it hard to separate the stress of work from the stress of home life. Survey after survey shows the impact of mental wellbeing and stress, and there is a real danger that assignees might be struggling out of sight.For families relocating and those already on assignment, there are extra pressures. Moving home and starting a new school in a new location are widely acknowledged as among the most stressful life events. But finding the right school community can make all the difference in settling in and assignment success, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Working parents' mental wellbeing at risk

A recent survey from Theta Global Advisors to mark National Stress Awareness Day (November 4) finds 64% of British people believe parents have been hardest hit by the pandemic due to having to work, take care of and teach their children simultaneously. The same survey also found two-fifths of parents agreeing with the statement that their own mental health has suffered because of the pressure of homeschooling while also managing workload. "This National Stress Awareness Day is a prime opportunity to shed a light on the challenges working Brits face as we enter a second lockdown,” says Chris Biggs, Partner at Theta Global Advisors.“Our research has shown that working parents do feel that they are under increased pressure and stress due to homeschooling during lockdown. Therefore, we must do more to help as we enter a second lockdown."
Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Advisor at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, in her blog this week also recognises the challenges many face. “The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the whole range of pressures that many people face both at home and at work. This Stress Awareness Week marks an important opportunity to take stock of the risks that individuals and organisations are facing during these turbulent times, and explore how employers and HR can manage them.”

Balancing work and home life in the pandemic

Stress has a significant impact on people’s health, wellbeing and productivity as executive coach Paul Williamson highlighted in his recent resilience workshop. It can lower functional IQ and lead to poor decision making. The link between stress and overall mental wellbeing is well known. This year’s World Mental Health Day in October also highlighted the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s mental wellbeing. According to WHO data, one billion people affected by worsening or new conditions. These figures have led health bodies to declare a global mental-health emergency.A study by UK health charity Mind found that 60% of people’s mental health had declined during the first lockdown. Young people in particular have been badly affected, with the figure higher at 68%. Renowned pediatrician Dr Anisha Abraham discussed teenage mental health in a Q&A session for schools, parents, employers and relocation professions as part of Relocate Global’s month-long Great International Education & Schools Fair.

Managing presenteeism

For assignees and their families on the move, another relevant finding from Theta Global Advisors’ research is that many working parents are concerned for their careers because of the pandemic. A third are worried about their job if they need to take time off or work more flexibly to look after the children in the event of school closure.This makes concerns around presenteeism – working when unwell or working long hours – even more relevant when people are working remotely. Remote working and presenteeism could mask the true extent of the problem as line managers and colleagues might miss the signs of stress and burnout. John Williams, Head of Marketing at Instant Offices, says, “In the last decade, presenteeism – the act of working more hours than required – has tripled in the UK with more than 4 in 5 people observing it compared to just a quarter in 2010.“As coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread, both within the UK and globally, employers should be discouraging, and tackling, ‘presenteeism’ amid government warnings around social distancing and self-isolation.“This includes employees who arrive early and stay late to show commitment, those who work during annual leave and those who respond to emails at all hours, mistaking an unhealthy attitude towards work as a strong work ethic, often to the detriment of their personal wellbeing.”

The role of schools in supporting international assignee wellbeing

Supporting international assignees and being aware of the stress and wellbeing issues around working overseas during a pandemic has therefore never been more critical, especially when working remotely across international time zones.Theta Global Advisors’ findings also highlight schools’ critical role in ensuring education continues as seamlessly as possible for the wellbeing of children, their parents and teachers. This is an issue the international school leaders and experts at Thursday’s Great International Education & Schools Fair webinar on international schools, innovation and the response to the pandemic are already recognising. Thursday’s webinar on ‘International Schools, Innovation and the Response to the Pandemic’ saw Jitin Sethi, Partner, Global Education Practice, L.E.K. Consulting, Ashwin Assomull, Partner, Global Education Practice (L.E.K. Consulting), Jonathan Taylor, Principal, International School Zurich North, (Cognita), Fiona Murchie, Managing Editor, Relocate magazine and Relocate Global, and David Willows, Director of Advancement, The International School of Brussels join host BBC World presenter Jayne Constantinis to talk about the evolving role of schools as communities in the pandemic.
Among the many inspiring observations is how international schools are increasingly supporting parents’ wellbeing, as well as that of students and their staff bodies.Referring to L.E.K Consulting’s regular surveys of thousands of parents around the world to highlight some of their greatest concerns, Ashwin Assomull said pastoral care and mental health for students teachers and parents are among the biggest issues parents talk about. “This is particularly important as we deal with parents working from home while their children are also at home but in school,” said Mr Assomull.

Resources for relocating families

Later in the conversation on the subject on how education leaders in international schools are adapting to the pandemic, Jonathan Taylor commented on the supporting role schools increasingly play for parents. This is especially the case for many parents in international schools who rely on the school community when they don’t speak the local language to keep them up to date on guidance. “International schools have really stepped up and done that well,” he said.Fiona Murchie highlighted the great work happening to support relocating families and teaching staff in international schools before and during the first wave of the pandemic. These include onboarding programmes and a ready-made, welcoming community to families – and teaching staff – moving to a new location and a safe, stable place for their children amid uncertain times. As many European countries entering a second lockdown phase and ongoing uncertainty, forums and online events like Relocate Global’s month-long conversation with international schools, parents, education and relocation management experts are invaluable for alleviating the inevitable stress of an international move and providing an important opportunity for information and best practice sharing. Relocate Global has a dedicated wellness hub for members of the expatriate and globally mobile community and their families, which runs alongside this month’s Great International Education & Schools Fair. This is exploring all aspects of international education and schools, and was inspired by the innovation and agility of educators and leaders around the world.

Please join us for this innovative online event and be part of the Relocate Global community. Register now.

For more information on how to get involved and share your experience as an international school, educator or expert, please contact Tom Ward or Annabel Letham by email or or call +44(0)1892 891334.

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