9 ways to boost Early Years staff wellbeing

The Early Years workforce are champions of children's wellbeing - but what about their own?
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August 13, 2022
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • Working in the Early Years is an absolute privilege and a wonderful way to support the most important part of a child's life. However, as worthy a role as it is, it's certainly not an easy one.
  • With the ongoing recruitment crisis in the Early Years workforce, ensuring the ongoing wellbeing of our staff is essential to their ongoing health and happiness and the sustainability of the sector as a whole.
  • We look at 9 ways to boost Early Years staff wellbeing, including exploring work-life balance, physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, and your work environment itself.

Some educators get a lot of emotional and social fulfilment from the job satisfaction of their role, whether it’s those close bonds they develop in their work with children or the joy of being part of a great team. But in a role as physically and emotionally demanding as working in an Early Years setting, staff wellbeing is not always so high.

As an employer, staff mental health and wellbeing should always be top of your agenda. Your leadership can help give your team some much-needed support and help you retain staff. And, if you're recruiting, introducing your staff wellbeing policy to candidates helps demonstrate that your setting takes wellbeing seriously.

So where do you start? We've got 9 ideas to help you on your way...

1. Change your leadership approach

Adapt your leadership style to fit with the staff you're working with. This might mean taking on a more understanding approach and a casual work atmosphere, or knowing who needs more hands-on, structured guidance.

Remember that effective team leadership requires superb self-leadershipyou’ve got to take care of yourself, too.

Before you can be the pillar of direction for everyone else, make sure you are emotionally replenished and calm. This means:

  • Valuing yourself, your input, and your own time
  • Getting adequate sleep (even if you are stressed out)
  • Getting a good balance of nutrition
  • Maintaining your own work-life balance by taking the time to enjoy some relaxing activities.

2. Give your team the resources they need.

OK, there's only so much you can do with your physical environment, especially if you're working on a tight budget. But a resource doesn't have to be something physical.

If you're a member of a group like the Early Years Alliance, check out what educational and learning resources they can offer you free with your membership. The Famly blog, Famly Sessions (webinars with EY experts), and all our guides are also all free.

Many educational courses are offered online so as an industry, you might appreciate that it’s possible to run lessons and connect with learners remotely - which also saves money on travelling. You could also consider what in-house training you could offer.

Often, if staff are experiencing more serious mental health problems, it's not up to you to give them concrete advice - this is best left up to a doctor. You can, however, play a pivotal role in their long-term health and recovery by making it easy for staff to take the time they need to access the relevant professional.

3. Create a comfortable workspace

The learning environment of your setting is usually considered in terms of how it supports the children. Of course, they are the priority, but the workspace should enable staff too.

Here are some ways you can audit how the setting works for staff:

  • Where do staff write?

Are they hunched over an awkward shelf, trying to fill out a stack of daily diaries? Balancing a clipboard on their knees? Crammed into a toddler-sized chair with post-it notes?

  • How to staff lift?

Do staff know how to lift safely? Are staff expected to move heavy furniture around (for example, at sleep time)? How do they lay children on to a changing unit?

  • Where do staff relax?

Is the staffroom also used as an office and meeting space for parents? Are there refreshments? Is the staff's lunch or break space away from the children?

  • How do staff unwind?

Are staff having to take paperwork home? Are staff expected to answer messages about work when they're not 'clocked in'? Do staff have sufficient time off for holidays?

Why not do a survey of what staff feel they really need in terms of the environment? This could be a good way for staff to anonymously share concerns - just be prepared to act on the feedback you receive.

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4. Facilitate open discussion about mental health

If they feel comfortable doing so, ask team members if they would like to record how they feel each day. Make a note of:

  • A real high point, something to feel proud of, or something they've learned
  • Any challenges they feel overwhelmed by or issues they faced.

This gives you the opportunity to step in and reduce the burden when necessary and reflect on what went well too.

The point is not to use these notes as a way to 'monitor' your team or catch anyone out, but to offer timely support. Ensuring that your team feel emotionally safe is an important part of looking after their mental health and wellbeing at work. This takes patience and empathy as a leader.

If you know someone in your team is having a hard time, perhaps having relationship problems or struggling with their physical health, you may need to accept a few silly mistakes, reduced concentration, and forgetfulness. Instead of a list of errors, why not make a note of how you supported them and what you can do as a team to learn from any mistakes that are made?

5. Schedule time for one-on-one meetings

Even if you’re pressed for time, improving staff wellbeing should be top of the list. One-on-ones (or supervision meetings) are really important it’s your chance to get personal and find out how team members are doing. If you notice a dip in energy levels, address it kindly and ask how you can support them.

Staff members might not be used to “opening up” to their manager in the way that this type of communication invites, so try to keep that in mind and work around it by being more relaxed and compassionate. Talking about mental health issues can be challenging, but supporting staff wellbeing means creating space for mental health challenges as well as promoting ongoing good mental health.

That being said, these don't have to be difficult conversations every time, just a casual catch-up lets your team know you're listening and concerned with their wellbeing.

Team building: 4 creative ways to relax and have fun

Team building can give your team a sense of connectedness that they might not get when they're all in their individual rooms or classrooms. Gathering together (without it being a staff meeting) is a perfect way to do this.

Why not try Zoom meetings with the whole team? Your team can be relaxed at home (meaning not having to stay late at work) and enjoy an informal meeting to share how their week has been from their own sofa. Go through the good and the bad together, then get into some fun.

Yoga classes

The staff wellbeing activity:

Yoga is an age-old practice that soothes stressed bodies and provides gentle exercise, keeping the body conditioned. Invite a yogi into your setting to lead a session or join a remote class online. If you're worried about budget, you can even find lessons on Youtube.

Cooking sessions

The staff wellbeing activity:

Cooking is a creative outlet and an essential skill. Cooking provides exposes them to a wonderful art form that could spark a new passion. If you have a nursery chef who's willing to spare some of their skill, a passionate team member who knows their way around a kitchen or, just find a recipe book and go for it!

Cooking together is a great way of uniting people and there are so many ways to go about it.

  • Why not challenge two teams to a bake-off and appoint a judge?
  • Share recipes from staff members' home countries
  • Staff could cook at home and bring something to a pot-luck meal
  • If you have the space in your kitchen, get your setting's chef to give you all a master class in Early Years cooking.

It’s about exploring new skills and getting adventurous. Plus, having this sort of structure and direction to the event is a more comfortable social setting for some.

Board games

The staff wellbeing activity:

Adult board games have become one of the biggest new trends. It’s interactive, it can be free, and it introduces lighthearted fun and competition to your employees. You only need a board game (or a few, if you have a large team) and if you're short on funds, your local charity shop is bound to have some going cheap. It's cathartic, it's easy, it's a conversation starter!

Team quiz night

The staff wellbeing activity:

A quiz night is an excellent team-building activity that encourages relaxation, laughter, and team bonding. You could invite your team to bring their partners too. It's easy to use an online quiz platform to facilitate the activity, or simple pen and paper. Offer some snacks and drinks if you can, or staff can bring their own. You could do a pop culture quiz, or one about your setting — or, a quiz that tests how well you know one another. The choice is yours!

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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