The work of guidance counsellors nowadays includes so many external tasks in addition to actual student guidance that it can be difficult to hold on to one’s basic work values and goals – that is, the factors that led to the profession in the first place.
It is a fact that with the accumulation of tasks, some counsellors feel overwhelmed at work, and in the midst of rush and stress, they may forget the cornerstone of their work: the idea that counselling work should focus on the student. At some point, they may even question whether they can continue to do their work with the same values they hold and still respond to the needs of their clients.
In this blog post, we examine where the workload experienced by guidance counsellors comes from and what measures could potentially be taken to ease their well-being and coping.
When assessing what a counsellor does during a workday in today’s world, their job description can include everything from counselling work and lessons to the tasks of a principal or school secretary. The essence of the work is easily lost among all the other tasks.
Measures to ease the workload of guidance counsellors are constantly being sought and attention is being paid, for example, to the number of clients; however, the variety of schools and their practices is so vast that it is challenging to give unambiguous and general advice on coping and well-being at work. It must be remembered that the capacity for coping and an appropriate rhythm for time management vary from person to person, and an outsider cannot offer an absolute guideline to make things easier.
When considering the factors that affect the well-being and coping of guidance counsellors, the key is to find the personal and individual core that promotes work well-being – what are the values that define your work, what is the basis on which you build your guidance, and what serves you and your students best so that you both get the most out of your work?
Based on these questions, a guidance counselor can very well find motivating factors for themselves and at the same time trim the non-essential elements from their workday. It is therefore important to be able to stop and recognize what truly refreshes and helps one thrive, and what only adds more weight on one’s shoulders.
Today, the job description of guidance counselors includes a wide range of tasks that easily cause additional stress. Different schools have very different operating practices, making it challenging to provide uniform guidelines for lightening the load. The most important thing is to find the core of one’s work and the motivational factors that are essential to oneself in the job.
What could be done concretely to improve the well-being and resilience of guidance counselors?
One way to reduce stress is to optimize time management within the available frameworks so that tasks do not accumulate too much and there is also time for breaks. Separating work and free time, organizing tasks, and scheduling clearly are ways that can significantly lighten unbalanced and demanding days. By structuring work, more time is likely to be available for essential concentration, which is crucial for the guidance counselor’s work resilience.
Tools that suit oneself, such as calendars, can also make everyday life easier by helping to visualize how time is spent. Calendars can be either completely personal or, in electronic form, shared with colleagues. The benefit of a shared calendar is its speed, adjustability, and versatile features, which can include the possibility of scheduling staff meetings and appointments with students.
Using a calendar, the guidance counselor can identify time thieves, i.e., those things that consume extra minutes and hours almost unnoticed during the workday or throughout the day. The goal is to help individuals understand, through scheduling, that these are the essential things in their workdays and that they are spending too much time on irrelevant tasks.
However, it should be remembered that not everything related to the guidance counselor’s work can be seen in the calendar if only, for example, lessons, counseling sessions, and meetings are marked. The truth is that the time slots between these markings contain those surreptitiously stressful activities that are difficult to perceive and that cause haste and stress. Efficient utilization of the calendar requires an understanding of what belongs to the guidance counselor’s work.
When one’s own schedule becomes concrete and daily tasks are clearly visible, it is also easier to say no to extra tasks. The most essential things in work are top priorities and need to be nurtured, and beyond these priorities, one has the right to take breaks to recover and find strength for the future. Thus, nobody else can build a ready-made schedule or define essential things for the guidance counselor, and the suitable way to use time must be realized independently.
The importance of peer support and the feeling of being able to make a difference is also crucial to well-being and resilience. It is really important to be able to rely on colleagues and share things with others who are struggling with the same issues. Sharing practical tips and effective practices can be helpful to more people than initially anticipated. Ironically, even for this type of collegial sharing and coming together around shared issues, it is increasingly difficult to find time, and it would be greatly beneficial if regular gatherings for guidance counselors could be organized.
Studies have shown that feeling that one can actually influence their work is a crucial component of job satisfaction and resilience. If the opportunities for impact have been taken away or at least feel limited, people can easily feel additional stress.
If a guidance counselor knows of a tool that can help clarify their use of time and make their work environment easier, such as a shared calendar system, then its implementation naturally requires effort from the employer. If there are genuinely positive experiences with a time management and resilience-promoting system, it would benefit the employer, employees, and students if such tools were dared to be tried. Exhaustion is not a goal for anyone.
For this blog post, guidance counselors and professionals in coaching and mentoring were interviewed, including Leena Ståhlberg and Marjaana Herlevi of OpoCoaching.