‘Sometimes you just give, give, give and there’s nothing else to give’— Early childhood teacher
As part of Catherine Jones’ PhD study, she interviewed educators and asked them to provide monthly reflective journal entries on the topic of workplace wellbeing. These educators described what workplace wellbeing meant to them and also highlighted the ways in which they felt their wellbeing was both supported and thwarted within their centres.
Workplace wellbeing in the context of an early childhood centre
When asked about healthy workplace wellbeing, words such as happy, harmonious, fun, valued, continuous learning, being supported and strong relationships were the most frequently used. However, during interviews, it was clear that these educators wanted to discuss the challenges of working in the early childhood sector. Words such as stressed, drained, frazzled, burnt-out, not supported, undervalued and unfairness were commonplace. Educators highlighted the strong focus on the psychological aspect of wellbeing in the workplace.
The pressure to put on a happy face at work
Educators engage in a lot of emotional work (also termed ‘emotional labour’) that can sap their wellbeing. They often express happiness and excitement despite being under pressure to complete daily routines, documentation, and engage with others. They are constantly required to suppress feelings such as sadness, anger and anxiety, frustration and irritation.
Key ideas and supporting strategies for wellness
1. Relationships with colleagues (particularly room teams) are key when it comes to workplace wellbeing. Strong teams are respectful and caring of each other. Educators within effective teams utilise each other’s strengths regardless of qualification level, and feel a ‘sense of flow’. However, educators in very hierarchical rooms and centres often feel low wellbeing.
The following reflective questions may help improve workplace wellbeing:
- How can educators be supported in having rooms that ‘flow’?
- Is there a culture of respect among colleagues?
- Have strength surveys been considered in the workplace as a starting point? (As a starting point, you or your colleagues might consider taking strength surveys such as: viacharacter.org/survey/account/Register)
- Have you considered learning about each other’s personality types and could this help you better interact with colleagues or different people? (I have used the Disc model in the past and it was really effective. See https://discpersonalitytesting.com/blog/what-are-the-four-disc-types/ for more details.)
- Do colleagues get time to have professional discussions?
2. It is not possible to have a complete disconnect between home and work-life. We work in highly relational work, where it is impossible to sit behind a desk and quietly work away on a stressful day. Again, it takes a lot of ‘emotional labour’ to suppress strong feelings surfacing from stressful home/family times.
What can centres do?
- Acknowledge stressful situations for educators, both at work and at home.
- Introduce formal leave policies to cover mental health days.
- Allow break times (when able) for all educators when needed.
- Provide access to counselling services.
- Encourage teams to help out colleagues through difficult situations.
3. Strong leadership and management are vital for healthy workplace wellbeing. Strong leaders and managers help us by providing conditions and opportunities such as programming time, mentoring, pay, professional development and wellbeing initiatives (the list goes on!).
- What change would make the most positive impact on your wellbeing: An extra hour of programming time? Mentoring opportunities? Greater acknowledgement for your work? Extra pay? Staff nights out? Reflect on conditions and prioritise.
- Are the roles and responsibilities fair, given your qualifications, experience and salary?
Important to remember
Wellbeing is a complex concept and will hold a different meaning for different people and the same strategies might not support all educators. Work with your teams, discuss what wellbeing means to them, and ask them what would help improve their overall workplace wellbeing.
Everyday Learning Series
This Everyday Learning Series title explores the questions: How often do educators actually think about supporting their own wellbeing? Do educators consider that, before they can facilitate children’s wellbeing, they need to look after themselves first? It is difficult for early childhood educators to work well, build relationships with colleagues, children or families, or be role models for the children they teach, if they are unwell, unhappy or burnt out—educators’ own self-care is crucial in order to support children’s learning and development.