Care Routines, Communication, Wellbeing

Five tips to motivate and retain staff

Pip Phillips 1 November 2021

Image: New Shoots Children's Centre, Greenhithe.

In the incredible world of early years education, we all know how important it is to retain staff. Finding qualified employees is a challenge we can avoid by keeping our current team motivated and encouraged. The success of any business comes down to the ability to retain good staff. In the modern job market, skilled educators are in high demand. Gone are the days of people staying in one job, with one company, for most of their working life.

Instead, talented teachers are willing to trade long-term stability for personal and career development, better work-life balance, or to find a more compatible company culture. This means businesses that fail to look after their employees, and meet their expectations, risk losing them to a competitor.

It’s not all about the money. Yes, it’s an attractive way to get people through the door, but if staff feel unappreciated or disrespected, they’ll soon find somewhere else to work. So, how can you ensure your early years setting attracts and retains the best educators in town? Read these top five tips, and you’ll be one step closer to being a ‘centre of choice’ for employees.

1. Hire the right managers 

Centre managers are a pillar of strength within any centre. Inevitably, they have years of experience and knowledge in early years education, but a centre manager needs to be more than a well-experienced teacher. Business and administration skills are essential, but their ability to lead and empower staff in a strong and meaningful way is their most valuable skill.

There will always be staffing issues for many different reasons. It is how we deal with these issues that is crucial. Staff respect managers who respect them, managers who invest in their staff with their time and knowledge, and managers who have a positive open-door policy. It can’t be emphasised enough how pivotal this is. Every staff member in your centre is a unique individual, so managing them will require different approaches. If managers know and understand their staff, they can motivate, support, and help them grow. Learning about your team starts during the recruitment process. You’ll learn what motivates them and how their personality influences their working style. Management courses are valuable for learning tools and techniques for managing different personalities. Doing this effectively ensures every educator will feel heard, respected, and an integral part of the team.

2. Invest in staff education

Educators want to continue growing in their careers, like any profession. Investing in the team you have is more cost-effective than replacing staff in the long run. It is understood that replacing a long-term staff member will cost your centre triple their salary. Investing in their knowledge is an investment in your centre, so a professional development budget is essential. Showing your staff their knowledge is respected and valued means they will want to upskill and bring more to their place of work.

3. Make wellbeing a top priority 

Educators are passionate people with a genuine sense of care and protection for others – especially children. Their role can be, at times, hard emotionally. Educators care for the needs of our children every day, so what are employers doing to care for our teachers’ wellbeing? Gone are the days of “she’ll be right”. If Covid-19 has taught us one key lesson, it is that mental wellbeing needs to be cared for through unprecedented times. 

We need to transform our staff wellness policies from the usual “fruit and flu jab” to ensure they’re relevant beyond 2021. We need to offer a refreshed holistic programme to inspire, educate, and support employees towards physical, career, and mental wellbeing. It’s time to revisit your staff wellbeing policy or, for some centres, design one. It doesn’t have to be costly - having support structures in place is a good starting point. Do your staff even know that an Employee Assistance Programme is an option? A sad reality of early years education is that bullying is still very prevalent in the industry. We need to educate people and create a support system for our staff to feel comfortable talking about and mending their mental health. We do this for our children, so why not for our educators?

4. Create and nourish a positive culture

As a recruitment manager, I meet people daily. The number of times I hear that people are working in a “toxic” culture saddens me. I recently asked staff across a few centres what elements keep them happy and engaged. 

Overwhelmingly, the common factor was “colleagues and culture”. Creating and nourishing a happy, healthy culture and team environment is essential. However, culture is interpretive, so building a positive culture within your centre philosophy is the best place to start. If you listen to staff, a strong culture will form. Many organisations send out staff engagement surveys, read them, and carry on with business as usual. There are little nuggets of gold in what your staff say. Yes, it can sometimes feel like people are just having a moan, but that hasn’t come from nowhere. When people are listened to and acknowledged, they feel empowered, and a positive mindset is formed within a supportive organisation. An intentional strategy to shift the culture from ‘just doing a job’ to one filled with passion, drive, and positivity will have a ripple effect on the entire environment.

5. Put it in writing

The last four points are super important, but if nothing is formally planned for and put in place, it’s just a five-minute conversation and stops there. Sit with your management team and put structure and policies in place. If these positive steps are ingrained into your business, it becomes second nature. Change doesn’t just happen. It needs precise specifications and a purpose. Set values and live by them, refer to them regularly and make them a part of your everyday practice. Doing this right from the start will give your intentions strength and longevity. Invest in your culture, team, and future by working with a Human Resources contractor to set up your policies and structure. Trust me. It will have a vast and profound effect.

Enspirement is one of the tools you could use across your teams to connect with a global community of educators and parents who share their creativity, knowledge, and ideas to better the lives of children. Our online platform is full of inspirational imagery, quality content, research and trends, best practices, and thought leadership. Enspirement is a professional development hub that makes planning meaningful spaces easy, thanks to helpful, engaging insights from experts, thought leaders, and academics.