Managing a team experiencing burnout - especially if you’re new as an ECEC leader
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Managing a team experiencing burnout – especially if you’re new as an ECEC leader

by Freya Lucas

November 25, 2022

Leadership is a challenging endeavor, even in the best of times – and early childhood education and care (ECEC) with all of the complexities of the past few years, coupled with the ongoing workforce shortages, is certainly not experiencing the best of times. 


For those staff who have remained in services, stress arising from supporting children and families post COVID, challenging economic times, and increased expectations of pedagogy, practice and paperwork have led to unprecedented levels of burnout, and a number of leaders and managers wondering how best to manage this space. 


Leaders who give employees too much autonomy can find themselves dealing with challenges around poor outcomes, jobs not getting done, and blurring the lines of leadership and friendship. On the other hand, leaders who hold on too tightly, and attempt to “micromanage” with increasing demands can also find themselves with unhappy staff. 


For those new to leadership roles, managing these complexities is all the more challenging – but never fear. Here are four suggestions to support. 


Bring back the heart – focus on your passions, and give an outlet for theirs 


When was the last time, as a leader, that you got deeply immersed in the children’s play, and let the emails go for an afternoon? 


Your toddlers room leader, who had such a passion for sustainability and the outdoors when you hired them – when was the last time they had the opportunity to spend time not on task lists or summative reports, but on pottering with children and plants? 


Passions are important – they are what lights us up inside. In a sector as challenging as ECEC, it’s important to give time and space to allow people to reconnect with them in a meaningful way. 


We put an “out of office” on our email when we are sick or away from work – what if we put an “out of office on to connect with the children once a week? What if you stepped into a room for 45 minutes to allow a room leader the time to engage in a passion project? 


Yes, it’s hard to find time to fit everything in – but if as a leader we can “make time” for meetings, what else can we make time for? 


Breathe out, and bring trust back 


Relationships only thrive when trust is present – and relationships with employees are no different. 


When you’re able to delegate to your team, you are showing them that you trust them, that you view them as competent and capable, and that they are empowered to make decisions which are in the best interests of the children, themselves and the service. 


If an educator is asked to undertake a small task like labelling the cot sheets, but instead spends time reading an extra story, with the intention of getting to the sheets at the end of the shift when things are quieter, this isn’t really the end of the world. 


Especially in a time of burnout, micromanaging or being hyper-focused on specific tasks – like making sure the windows are clean – can push already strapped employees to a breaking point. As a compassionate leader, be mindful of this, and show your team that you trust them to get the job done but can also be flexible about how you get there.  As we all know, it’s the outcomes that really matter.


Learn to lead, and listen to the feedback 


Good leaders are rarely born that way – leadership and management are skills, and like all skills, they need to grow and develop over time, with support from others to really cement what’s working, what isn’t, and what might need to change. 


Find a leadership mentor who can function as a critical friend, but also work with your team and be open to feedback about your role as a leader. And don’t wait until they deliver it to you – seek their input at every opportunity, asking them for their insights and perspectives. 


Get curious about how they see you, and don’t be afraid to ask for more clarification. Once you’ve been given the gift of good feedback, use it. 


There’s nothing more demoralising for a team member than to have taken the time to carefully and considerately share feedback only to have nothing change as a result. 


Your team needs to see you “walking the talk” and being open to change. Write it down, be accountable to it, and continue to evolve as a professional. 


Just like the moon and tides…


People’s career goals, perspectives and positions change over time. Don’t be afraid to let your team try something new as a way of combating burnout. 


Maybe they want some time at another centre which is also part of your organisation. Maybe they want to try a bigger or smaller service, work with a different age group, or step into, or out of, a leadership role. 


Good leaders are responsive and adaptable, and are willing to work with their teams to find the position of best fit. What’s always worked may not work any more – and that’s ok. 


Having an honest conversation about whether an employee is satisfied at their current job can only help, not hinder, their future growth and direction. Being a partner in helping them plan for the long run, even if that means discussing passion projects and internal transfer or building skills that prepare them in the future for a role outside your organisation.


It’s okay to allow your employees to change and grow, and they will respect and trust you more as a manager for acknowledging this and supporting them as individuals, not just employees filling a specific role at a specific time.


This piece was adapted from an original post shared by Fast Company, which may be accessed here. 

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