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WorkplaceWellbeing

The following article originally appeared in ACA's Belonging Early Years Journal, Volume 9, Number 1 - April 2020.

Workplace wellbeing: Creating a strong and stable workforce is to everyone's advantage

By Catherine Jones, School of Education, Macquarie University

Within the early childhood sector, we have been grappling with the issue of staff turnover for many years, with educators moving between services or leaving the sector altogether. When we look at organisational literature, extant research has found strong associations between workplace wellbeing and employee outcomes, including turnover rates, absenteeism and productivity.

Given the turbulent climate created by coronavirus and the impact this has had on early learning services throughout the country, it's now more important than ever to create and maintain positive working environments for early childhood educators.

We know a strong and stable workforce is pivotal in providing children and families with high-quality early education, which is why it is crucial that educators feel supported during these uncertain times. Honing in on and understanding educators' workplace wellbeing allows us to determine which factors are positively influencing wellbeing, and to think carefully about how leaders and managers can support and enhance the wellbeing of employees. 

Until quite recently, research into early childhood educators' workplace wellbeing has been fragmented, with studies focusing on a particular aspect of wellbeing, such as stress or burnout. Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s definition of health as a 'state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity', it is important to develop a more holistic conceptualisation of workplace wellbeing - one specific to the early childhood context.

Current research1 suggests that workplace wellbeing encapsulates psychological/emotional, social, economic and physical domains. Further, workplace wellbeing is not just about feeling happy at work - it is about having a sense of purpose, feeling competent, having the ability to accomplish tasks, having choice and decision-making power within the workplace, and being in a strong and supportive team. The high degree of emotional work that educators engage in also needs to be taken into consideration.

Findings from my research illustrate that organisational factors impacting educator workplace wellbeing include clear and equitable job roles and responsibilities; careful thougt given to staffing arrangements; and understanding of the emotional work of educators and the toll this can take on individuals. So, how can leaders and managers enhance and support the wellbeing of their educators?

Clear and equitable job roles and responsibilities 

Early childhood work is complex and requires many varied roles to be carefully executed in order for educators to feel competent, such as time for quality interactions with children, colleagues and families, and opportunities to create meaningful documentation. For this to happen, supportive relational and structural conditions need to be in place; for example, sufficient time and/or training.

Leaders and managers also need to be mindful of educators' qualifications, experience levels and salaries; however, they need to be careful not to take away responsibilities solely based on an educators' qualification. Doing so can create rigid hierarchies within a centre, and the loss of valuable skills and collaboration of staff. The key is for leaders to be mindful and aware of individual skills and confidence levels, and provide equitable compensation for the work employees do. 

Careful thought given to staffing arrangements

Leaders can support teams to become more high functioning through professional development sessions, looking at the individual strengths of educators, and by ensuring that correct ratios are being upheld at all times during the day. Given that the regulations require educator-to-child ratios to be maintained at all times when an early childhood education and care service is operating - regardless of the activity children or educators are undertaking - is it possible to have an extra educator in the room to cover lunch breaks and programming times?

This means that all staff know the children and educators feel comfortable when they leave the room, and if an educator is sick, it dramatically reduces the need to cover staff with irregular casuals. The provision of some flexibility is also important to enhance educator wellbeing. 

Understanding the emotional work of educators

We all know that being an educator requires a high amount of emotional work, but how much di we know about the emotional toll this work takes on individuals? What strategies are effective in reducing this toll?  There is an urgent need for nore research to be conducted in the area of emotional labour in early childhood to determine how we can best support educators in their roles.

Workplace wellbeing is important. According to WHO, the implication of a wellness program is also beneficial in reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. My research found a significant link between centres that implemented wellbeing initiatives and higher levels of workplace being.

Wellbeing initiatives included:

  • Employment Assistance Programs
  • the provision of mental health days
  • the inclusion of formal wellbeing policies
  • acknowledgement from management - Eg. awards or small gifts
  • access to natural therapies - Eg. massage vouchers or gym and pool memberships
  • professional development to support wellbeing - Eg. team building exercises or retreats
  • general support from the leadership team - Eg. superiors being available to chat about issues and leaders who follow through on issues
  • social events - Eg. celebrating birthdays or end-of-year parties 
  • the creation of aesthetically pleasing spaces for breaks and programming time.

It is wonderful to see a fresh focus on workplace wellbeing and to hear so many centres developing wellness initiatives to support the important work of their educators.

 

Catherine Jones is a PhD candidate in the School of Education at Macquarie University and is an early childhood teacher. Her research focuses on workplace wellbeing, job satisfaction, leadership and other workplace issues in the early childhood sector, To get in touch, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

1 Cumming, T. & Wong, S. (2018) 'Towards a holistic conception of early childhood educators' work-related wellbeing.' Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 1(1), 1-17 doi:10.1177/1463949118772573.