How to promote a healthy workplace culture: 8 tips you need to know
Unlock the potential of your children’s service and build a strong team culture with these top tips from Community Child Care Association consultant and experienced early childhood leader Narelle Lawton.
Stressful working conditions – which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – along with constant news stories about how poorly educators are paid, have spurred many to leave our sector.
As leaders, we need to do all we can to support, motivate and inspire our teams. After all, happy team members that look forward to coming to work each day, will also be enthusiastic, loyal and productive employees.
- Take a look around
Take the time during your day to visit the rooms and see what families see. Are your educators engaged with the children? Laughing, sharing joyful moments and teaching with intent? Or are they simply going through the motions, meeting children’s basic needs and performing crowd control as necessary?
If your team seems a little flat, have an open conversation and ask them why. A simple change may be all that’s needed to boost morale, or you may need to take a deeper look at your organisational structure. Reflect on what you can do to support positive change.
- Address issues head-on
If after some observation and reflection you identify an issue, address it directly and straight away before it causes rifts amongst the team. For example, perhaps an educator has told you there is gossip spreading around the service. Remind your team they can come to you to ask questions and gain information, instead of wasting time and energy on rumours that can cause friction and exacerbate personality conflicts. If you don’t already, emphasise the importance of a gossip-free culture during inductions and staff meetings. Review your code of conduct with the whole team.
Be honest and clear about the behaviour you’ve noticed and ask the team what they feel can be done to make collective change.
- Communication is key
Ensure you are communicating across your entire team in a regular and timely manner. People thrive on being involved and heard in decision making, and open communication supports collaborative relationships.
In busy, demanding education and care environments, communication can sometimes be challenging. Do you regularly book time in your diary to connect with your team to ask for their thoughts? As a leader, are you being open-minded and responsive? Consider the power of staff meetings, surveys and mind maps in starting conversations.
As a director, my team challenged the way I operated many times, presenting me with innovative ideas that led to amazing experiences for children. For example, an educator suggested teaching children about fire safety by actually having a fire. Of course, I was immediately concerned about the possible risks – yet instead of shutting down the idea, I asked the team how it might work. My team came back with a risk minimisation plan, a safety checklist and a clear procedure of how, when and why we would have fires. The discussion went back and forth until we were sure we had covered all the risks involved.
- Acknowledge hard work and provide support
While your team members are probably educating children because they are passionate about it, they still need to feel seen and valued to keep up the momentum. Support their passion. Ask ‘What can I do to help you meet your goals? How can I help you succeed?’
Focus on each team member’s strengths and send them to conferences and other training opportunities to keep them inspired. This shows you care about your educators and their careers, as well as the quality of their programs.
Acknowledge everyday wins. I found my team to be most responsive when I stopped what I was doing to have a quiet moment with them. I’d ask about the children and their experiences that week and actively listen.
Tip: Avoid singling people out in a tokenistic way – for example, ‘employee of the month’ can be disheartening for those who aren’t chosen.
- Create guiding principles
Guiding principles set a standard for the behaviours you would like to see in your workplace. Once you define and communicate your guiding principles, your team will understand the behaviours that are expected of them. Each team member – from the director to the student-teacher – can then ask a simple question whenever they’re faced with a tricky situation or decision: does the action I’m thinking about taking reflect our guiding principles?
Here are some examples of guiding principles:
- Lead supportively
- Celebrate diversity
- Always learning
- Work as a team
- Have high standards.
The guiding principles you create for your service should reflect your philosophy and what’s important to your organisation. And remember: it’s not just about coming up with your guiding principles. It’s about living them.
- Encourage work/life balance
Being an early childhood or outside school hours care educator is a highly demanding role. Our services are open for long hours to support our communities – meaning educators need to juggle their family commitments to do a 7 am start or 6 pm finish.
Can you offer fixed working times or part-time options for those who need to get their own children to and from school? We didn’t offer shorter shifts at my service, but I encouraged my team to work fewer days to meet their family needs. Can your educators purchase additional leave so they can spend time with their children on school holidays?
Ensure your team isn’t taking work home – nobody should be working for free. If your staff feel overworked or stretched for time, revisit your planning expectations and rosters and make changes.
Allow for plenty of paid, non-contact time, especially for your educational leader, whose role is to guide programming and practice.
- Take steps to avoid staff turnover
Replacing staff regularly costs time and money. If turnover is an issue, find out what’s going on and why people are resigning. Some may be leaving the sector altogether, but others are going on to work at different services. Why? Ensure your exit interviews are conducted with an impartial person – a committee member, for example – so outgoing staff feel comfortable to give honest feedback.
Can you employ an additional educator to lessen stress on the team? At my service, we had an additional educator in each room so staff could plan their days with flexibility. We also employed two extra educators to cover sick leave and annual leave, which supported consistency for the children.
- Lead by example
Your team will follow the behaviours and practices they observe from you.
Get to work on time, greet everyone and ensure your team feels seen and valued. Most importantly, have a positive attitude.
I know this can be difficult in the current climate – but if you strive to have a glass half-full attitude, you will reap the rewards of feeling great and promoting positivity across your entire team.
This piece has been reshared with publisher permissions, and first appeared in Community Child Care Association’s Roundtable magazine.