How can we re-ignite the flames of inspiration in our teams and ourselves, and, while we achieve great things, get the chance to live a little too? Lynne Copp looks at the challenge

Being inspired all the time is tough, especially when we are tired and stressed or have not yet mastered the art of waving a magic wand over the increased workload on our desk.

Work-life imbalance
While you burn the midnight oil night after night, you try to convince yourself that ‘this is just a busy time, things will soon get better’. However, the demons of work-life imbalance are eating at your life, your health and your creativity – term after term. Most of all, they are dampening your flames of inspiration with the cold dark waters of exhaustion and demotivation.

How many of us wake up each morning just as tired as when we went to bed? How many dread the ‘call to action’ for change, creativity and empowerment?

The treacle of work
I often hear teachers and headteachers say that they feel just like robots, trudging through the treacle of work with no real inspiration or motivation any more. They don’t mean to be that way! In fact, they would rather be passionate about what they do every day! After all, isn’t that how it used to be?

Remodelling and investment in process management and change, needs to be underpinned by management development in work-life balance at all levels. Your teams need support with prioritising, letting go, managing workload, managing change, managing interruptions, driving out waste and process improvement. Senior managers need to change the measures that are used for measuring the commitment of their people – why reward the person that works the longest hours? Challenging yes, but how can we be inspired to reach new goals when we are worn out and addicted to working long hours?

Schools need people that are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, well-rested and eager to deliver their best.

Stress, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and accelerated attrition are the result of long working hours, excessive workload or inflexibility. This imbalance is reducing results and crippling many schools. 80% of all sickness absence in the UK is stress related and around 40% of all absence is due to work-life imbalance.

Implementing work-life strategies with even the sole objective of reducing absenteeism, will also save money, increase productivity and realise benefits for the whole school.

Commitment from the top
Therefore the motivation to improve can be achieved through sound work-life balance strategies. Work-life balance is not a tick in the box; it is a journey that takes time to implement and reap the rewards –- a journey fraught with tough terrain and a few setbacks on the way. However, schools that stick to their plans, involve all of their people and adopt a tenacious attitude, find that not only do results improve but so does retention of good teachers and overall reduction in costs.

This agenda requires clear leadership, role-modelling and commitment to excellence in people management from the top. Adopting a strategy for work-life ensures that each layer has differing developmental needs, priorities and outcomes. For example, it is not enough to simply write policy without training, it is not enough to tell teachers that they can work flexibly without the cultural support and it is not feasible to ask managers to manage flexibility without the tools to do the job.

My challenge is for each of you to look closely at driving out waste and driving down long hours.

Start as you mean to go on, use this year to really make a difference to your work and life and that of your team and remember, no one ever lay on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at their desk.

Remember: You cannot SAVE time, you can only SPEND time!

First published in Teaching Expertise, Issue 9 2005