Nursery Manager Tips: How to Deal With Difficult Staff

June 20, 2022

15 ideas on how to engage your employees.

15 ideas on how to engage your employees.
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Ever feel more like a referee than a nursery manager?

Maybe it’s late or flaky staff. It could be difficult comments behind your back (or in front of your face). Or maybe just staff who are making your life harder than it needs to be.

Every now and then you’ll find that a member of staff just isn’t right for your setting. But most of the time it’s more likely a case of disengaged staff who have lost a bit of their passion. How do you resolve that? Hopefully, that’s where we can help.

Borrowed from HR guides, successful nurseries around the UK, and even from our own office, here’s our 15-step guide to improving your relationships with your staff.

1. Keep it positive

That old compliment sandwich is an important one. Try to find positives to accompany any negatives, and try to make sure that you don’t discourage good work by being negative when you don’t need to be. One of your staff comes to you with an idea? Make sure you always find the positive in it, no matter what. The kind of staff who care enough to come up with ideas to improve your business are not the kind that you want to dissuade.

2. Listen

Almost everything on this list stems from here. If you don’t hear what people’s ambitions, concerns or passions are, then how can you expect to manage them properly and make them feel valued? Later on, we’ve got a few ideas for how to make sure people are really feeling heard and understood.

3. Share more with them

Sharing more with staff isn’t just good for staff relationships, it’s good for your business too. It might feel a bit scary to share financial and business information with people. But once they understand the journey you’re on, your goals, your challenges and the solutions you’re trying to offer, you’re far more likely to have staff who really care.

4. Get your hands dirty

When the paperwork is piling up and your to-do-list is only getting longer, it’s not easy to find time to spend on the floor. But taking the time to get stuck in, change some nappies, help with some cleaning – it matters. Not only do your staff know that you’re actually seeing the hard work they do, but they’ll respect you more if they know you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty.

5. Meetings.

No one likes endless meetings (especially ones they aren’t getting paid for). But they’re also important to organise your team and get everyone working together. So make sure they’re not the thing putting off your staff.

Try to keep them shorter and more efficient. Give your staff an opportunity to talk as well, and explain what they’ve been doing at work. This is the key making sure people feel valued and understood. Consider reducing your weekly meetings to short 15 minute updates, and save longer, more in depth meetings for once a month.

6. Your code of conduct

In short, make sure you’ve got one. But find a way to make it simple, and respectful. You shouldn’t have to treat your staff like children, but it’s important to have some non-negotiable lines in the sand that are written down somewhere and agreed on.

Include stuff about what should be expected of you as an employer too. It’s a two-way street and it’s important that your staff don’t feel dictated too without knowing that there are standards which you are being held to as well.

7. 1 on 1s

Find time to sit down with each member of staff. Every month. One on one. This doesn’t need to be for longer than 15 minutes, but it matters. This is where you do your listening, and where you set things for both of you to improve on. It’s also where you get to make them feel positive about all the good work that they’re doing.

8. Have a vent box

Put in a small anonymous box where staff can leave notes, problems, suggestions – without fear of being called up on it. Then address the issues in front of everyone at a meeting. Call ‘vent box’ time and run through the issues, giving you a chance to explain the reasoning behind your decisions and whether you’re going to make changes.

Doing this consistently, honestly and openly not only gives you the chance to address people’s problems before they become real issues, but it also encourages an environment of better communication all round.

9. Focus on the kids

It’s no secret that most people get into childcare because they’re passionate about working with children, and this is always a good place to go back to. If you need to encourage staff, or want to find a way to deal with difficult behaviour, remind them of the vital impact they have on the lives of little ones. You can help encourage this further by giving staff more face time with parents, helping them to feel valued as a source of child development know-how.

10. Play to their strengths

Here’s another reason to listen more. Understanding what your staff are good at and what they like doing is going to give you more effective workers. But that’s just for starters. People like doing what they’re good at, and they like doing what they enjoy. And guess what? People who like doing their job tend to be happier, and better employees too.

So take the time to work out what people are good at and enjoy doing, and see if you can find a way for them to do that at work. Calling out people and finding tasks for them can take some of the weight off your shoulders, and make people feel truly valued.

11. Make sure it’s the same for everyone

You don’t need to treat everyone the same. But you do need to treat everyone fairly. The difference? Rewarding people for good work isn’t treating everyone the same, but it is treating everyone fairly (so long as you recognise all good work). The same goes for giving people more responsibility, pay rises and promotions. Keep your ears open, and make sure you’re not letting your biases affect anything, and you’ll be OK.

12. Get rid of the cliques

Cliques can be the cause of a whole lot of damage. They let unfounded ideas grow, and they prevent the kind of open communication and inclusion that makes for a productive team. People are allowed to prefer other people, but be aware of those who are being left out. Encourage your staff to stay flexible and work together with the whole range of people you employ.

13. Be more organised

Organisation lets all of this above stuff work. Like keeping track of areas for improvement, and what goals you’ve set for people. Or making sure that you tell people where they need to be and why well in advance of when they need to do it. Promising people your time when they need it and keeping to that promise. That’s the kind of thing that really makes a difference to how your staff view you, and it starts with creating a system that lets you keep on top of everything.

14. Say thank you every day

We know this sounds dumb. And we know you probably don’t feel like thanking everyone all the time. But this takes such little effort and it can be so powerful.

It shows that you understand and appreciate the hard work they put in every day. Because even if you don’t always feel like it’s enough, chances are that they do. And all in only two words. How’s that for efficiency?  

15. Disciplinary action

This really should be the last resort. The amount of time and money you will spend on finding somebody new is always far greater than you think. In this case, make sure that you’ve tried out all options before it’s time to let somebody go. And if you do, make sure you treat them with dignity and respect and try to end on good terms no matter what’s happened. It’s a small world out there and the reputation of your setting might rest on it.

The big ideas

Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

Picture of a Guidance document
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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