Unveiling the influence of work related wellbeing
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Unveiling the Influence of Work-Related Wellbeing and Workplace Culture on Intention to Leave in Early Childhood Education

Unveiling the Influence of Work-Related Wellbeing and Workplace Culture on Intention to Leave in Early Childhood Education

by Jo Maloney

July 11, 2024

The Early Childhood Educators Wellbeing Project (ECEWP) team continues to delve deeper into the impact of wellbeing on early childhood educators and have recently published a journal article outlining their finding on why educators are intending to leave the sector.


The current study has examined the intention of centre directors, teachers and educators to leave the early childhood sector and the impact of work-related wellbeing and climate with the acknowledgement that Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Australia is in crisis with a third of respondents intending to leave the profession.


The article, which has generously been made freely available, reinforces the importance of high-quality ECEC on outcomes for children including cognitive and academic outcomes, better self-regulation, more prosocial and positive social-emotional behaviours. The retention of educators is invaluable in being able to contribute to these outcomes. 


The study used a mixed methods approach drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from 713 responses from early childhood professionals. They examined the degree to which work climate and culture and aspects of work-related wellbeing contributed to people’s intention to leave the profession and possible differences for those responsible for managing a service and those working directly with children. The qualitative data collected investigated aspects of workplace culture and climate including teamwork and organisational culture, co-worker relationships, supervisor relations, autonomy and decision making. Work-related wellbeing components that were examined were pay, promotion and benefits, professional respect and emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment which are both components of burnout. 


What emerged from the findings as broad themes were:


  • feelings of being undervalued
  • experiencing increased demands with inadequate support 
  • workforce issues such as equity and quality 


The feelings of being undervalued were on many levels including by government, society and the families they work with, in particular when compared to those working in schools. There was an expression of the increased complexity and demanding nature of the work with inadequate support. 


The findings were reinforced with other cited research that identified people who intended to stay reported:


  • lower emotional exhaustion
  • a greater level of professional respect
  • better supervisor relations
  • better teamwork
  • a more positive organisational climate
  • better pay and benefits 
  • greater autonomy in daily aspects of their work. 


One of the most significant factors was inadequacy of pay and benefits which has been an ongoing problem of the sector, with proposed action in the Thrive by Five campaign seeking an immediate pay rise in line with salary and conditions in the school sector. The lower the level of qualification increased the likelihood of intention to leave and the acknowledgement of obtaining similarly paid roles with less responsibility. 


Emotional exhaustion, a symptom of burnout, described as of feeling of being emotionally drained and frustrated by their job was a predictor as an intention to leave. This stemmed from overwhelming administrative and regulatory workloads with the needs of children and families becoming increasingly complex with limited support from allied health professionals. Frustration was expressed for not having sufficient mental health supports, planning time, and stable staffing numbers. There was an expression of lack of preparation and training to support children form diverse backgrounds from those intending to leave. 


Participants who were older in age indicated they were more likely to leave, even though the collated data excluded those participants who said they were leaving due to retirement. 


To many of you working in these positions in ECEC you will not be surprised by these findings, anecdotally I have witnessed many of these outcomes in my endeavour as a consultant to support services with educator wellbeing and the complex and challenging behaviours that seem to be on a perpetual incline. The other challenge many have experienced within the sector is centre directors attempting to support and upskill their team but low attendance at out of hours professional development which could be accounted for by the research findings of high levels of emotional exhaustion and professional development seen as one more expectation of educators. 


It is expressed by the authors of the research paper the hope that the current strategies and reforms being discussed and implemented within Australia, such as the Shaping Our futures initiatives will support reforms in ECEC over the next decade and lead to a more stable workforce. The apparent emotional exhaustion contributing significantly to educators, teachers and centre directors leaving is called to be given further attention in future research. 




Bull, R., McFarland, L., Cumming, T., & Wong, S. (2024). The impact of work-related wellbeing and workplace culture and climate on intention to leave in the early childhood sector. Early Childhood Research Quarterly69, 13-24.


About the author 

Jo Maloney is a consultant, coach, and author of Wellbeing Science in Early Childhood Education- How to Create Positive Change.


She supports leaders, educators, and teams using positive psychology, neuroscience, and attachment theory. Her work focuses on building strong communities through practical strategies in organisational culture, relationships, emotions, strengths, compassion, mindfulness, and trauma-informed social- emotional learning support.


Jo has 30 years’ experience in the early childhood sector and holds a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology, Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing, and a Bachelor of
Teaching (Early Childhood).

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