Guest blog: Creating a wellbeing-centric culture in early years education – The people role
As my maternity leave drew to a close several years ago, I recall looking for childcare for my little boy. Scrolling through Ofsted reports, seeking advice from other mums and visiting countless nurseries... who all offered different things! It was such an important decision and I desperately wanted to make the right choice.
As parents, our top priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our children. When it comes to choosing an early years setting for our little ones, we look for an environment that supports their learning, development and overall wellbeing.
But what about the wellbeing of the caregivers who nurture and educate our children?
As a sector, we often focus on the question of how to recruit more professionals into early years education – but perhaps it's more important to ask how we can retain the talented educators we already have? Neglecting this question can lead to a never-ending cycle of hiring and replacing colleagues, which can be costly and detrimental to both staff morale and the quality of care provided.
Indeed, a report from the Early Years Alliance (2021) revealed that 35% of early years educators are actively considering leaving the sector, with 72% citing job-related stress as the main reason. Yet many businesses across the UK, including early years settings, are still not placing wellbeing at the top of their agenda, with only 53% of organisations having a standalone wellbeing strategy according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
So how do you begin to develop an effective wellbeing strategy, and more importantly, how do you embed it across your organisation?
Embedding your strategy
The challenges faced by nursery groups
Developing and rolling out a wellbeing strategy for a single setting is fairly straightforward.
For larger providers with multiple sites, often located in different regions across the UK (and in some cases, the world), developing and embedding an effective wellbeing strategy can become more challenging. Logistical barriers, diverse employee needs, communication issues, resource allocation and lack of centralised control can often lead to inconsistencies and poor employee engagement.
This where it is imperative to utilise your People Team.
The role of people professionals
The perception of Human Resources, now often referred to as People Practice, has evolved significantly over the years. Outdated perceptions of HR often saw it primarily as an administrative and compliance-focused function. However, in the modern business landscape, HR has taken on a more strategic and value-driven role, particularly in the realm of employee health and wellbeing.
Here are 3 ways that people professionals can help to embed your wellbeing strategy:
- Assess needs, establish goals
Your People Team have access to valuable information relating to your workforce demographics. Factors like age, gender, religion, culture and ethnicity, combined with data from exit interviews, sickness rates and turnover, offer important insights into how your colleagues feel about work and what they value the most.
Use this information to establish meaningful health and wellbeing goals, such as: reducing stress-related absenteeism, enhancing mental health awareness, boosting apprentice retention, providing financial signposting or supporting colleagues experiencing symptoms of the menopause. These objectives will steer the strategy's development and implementation.
- Your People Team are key drivers
People practitioners should embody the wellbeing strategy, serving as role models for other employees. HR Admin Assistants, Advisors and Business Partners are well-positioned to advise, guide and promote company health and wellbeing initiatives. They can signpost to benefits, recommend good practice and educate colleagues on wellbeing initiatives through internal training and induction programs.
- Policies and procedures
Your People Team can also ensure that wellbeing supports and initiatives are embedded into everyday people processes and protocols such as: recruitment and hiring processes, employee induction packs, supervision documents, performance management processes and return to work programs. These touch points are all opportunities to endorse company wellbeing supports and initiatives. After all, there is no point in having them if they are not utilised!
In the field of early years education, cultivating a comprehensive wellbeing strategy isn't merely a commendable endeavour; it's an absolute necessity, and for larger nursery groups, this requires the active involvement of people professionals.
Through leveraging their expertise to facilitate the strategy's implementation and ongoing maintenance, people practitioners serve as champions of wellbeing, ensuring that employees consistently receive the support and resources they require to thrive in their roles.