We work in a profession where we encourage emotional literacy with children – we must ensure we help staff to feel they can be emotionally literate about their problems too.
I know some managers and owners whose attitude remains ‘pull yourself together’. While one approach will not work for everyone, in today’s society – in fact, morally – we have to look after our staff teams. When staff are stressed, their personalities change. Often their love of the job is dampened and this has a negative effect on their ability to perform at their highest level.
Managers need to lead from the front and breathe positivity into their teams.
Letting your team know you care makes them feel valued. A simple ‘how was your weekend?’ or ‘how are you feeling today?’ goes a very long way. Also, managers need looking after, and this is something we have focused on as the number of managers leaving the profession is on the increase.
I recently undertook Mental Health First Aid. This covered a wide range of mental health illnesses such as stress and anxiety and how to recognise them, creating a first-aid action plan, finding places to signpost staff to, and building a mentally healthy workplace.
Getting things right from the start is an important aspect of creating a culture of well-being in a setting. Instead of the quick tour round the building and policies and procedures that many do, we advocate a longer process focused on settling the staff member, making them feel safe, valued and integrated into the team and setting.
We allocate a mentor to each new staff member so they have someone they can ask for help, and schedule their lunchtimes together. Policies and procedures are rationed to a couple to read and digest each week. Also, we meet with the staff member each day, sometimes just for a quick ‘how are you getting on?’, or for a longer meeting on a particular procedure.
Staff as key children
Mentoring new staff can make the difference between a new recruit staying or leaving. We have supported settings with their mentoring process by holding mentoring meetings, teaching prospective mentors what their role is and how they can support new employees.
This starts with simple tasks such as ensuring the new starter knows where the tea and coffee is. At the start of a new employment, mentors will meet formally with their mentee a couple of times a week, which reduces as the person settles in. Since this system was introduced, we have seen a significant reduction in new staff leaving and a much more settled team. New employees say they are made to feel welcome and they are not as anxious when they come to work.
Regular supervision is also both crucial for the job and a good way to reconnect with staff and find out how they are doing outside of work. Make sure to allot enough time for a proper discussion (see Case study).
As a manager, your staff are your key children.
Some settings offer well-being packages – or a well-being app. In the case of an app, the cost to the company is minimal but sickness rates have reduced massively. There are a variety on the market; they promote a host of things that fall under the well-being category: mindfulness through meditation and breathing exercises, fitness, sleep and nutrition.
One I know of has stopped staff from going online first thing in the morning, which often contributes to their negative mood and anxiety. In addition, we are seeing more settings investing in counselling services that staff can access anonymously. Walking meetings are also being introduced in some settings – when people who need to speak to someone do this during a five- to ten-minute walk, providing not just a listening ear, but fresh air and a change of scenery.
Visiting settings regularly means I get to know staff, how they perform and also their personalities. I often support managers with supervision meetings and peer observations.
This is where I recently picked up that a member of staff was not herself. To someone who didn’t know her, she would have come across as unmotivated, lazy or uncaring, when I know she is anything but.
The staff member during feedback of her peer observation shrugged her performance off and put it down to ‘a bad day’, but this didn’t seem right. A month on and my next visit raised further alarm bells. This is often the fork in the road: some managers will put staff on performance management, others will dig deeper to find the real issue.
We did the latter. This member of staff was suffering financially and using a food bank. She felt guilty giving her time to other people’s children when she felt she couldn’t feed and clothe her own children.
Once we knew the issues, we could work with her to put a plan in place. This took time out of our day, but once we had talked about how we could help her to budget, we saw a smile that we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was certainly worth it. I have seen this lady recently and she is in a much better place. She says that her mental health has improved and she is loving her job again.
We have adapted supervision meetings after reflecting on this experience – with extra time allocated to really focus on staff well-being. We know that many performance issues are not actually job-related but stem from problems outside of nursery life.