There is a retention problem in childcare.
There’s no two ways about it. Whether it’s part of a wider problem that can be solved, or merely something that ‘goes with the territory’, nursery owners and managers struggle with retention throughout the UK.
While many staff are happy with the most fundamental aspects of the role, poor pay and a low perceived value on their job make it difficult. Coupled with the fact that the job naturally attracts a young workforce, high turnover within, or even out of, the sector is no surprise.
But are there things that you are doing which make the problem worse?
What can you do as a nursery manager to keep your best staff?
Retaining your best staff starts before you’ve ever got them in the first place. Finding the right people is key, and how you work with them during the process matters even more.
With a shrinking field to choose from, many nursery managers are forced to take on board someone who is less than ideal. Along with bad practice such as asking recruits to ‘volunteer’ before they are employed, many nurseries start off with staff on the wrong foot.
- Cast your net wider – Studies show that many nurseries overemphasise the importance of location. It turns out people are more willing to commute than you think.
- Better job ads – Many nurseries undersell themselves in job adverts. Transparency on things like pay and training opportunities can have a big impact, as can promoting the difference they’ll be making to the lives of children. Here’s our full guide.
- Informal visit to the nursery– You can see them interact with the children, and set expectations about the setting and role.
- Move beyond your gut – Too many managers focus on gut instinct. This can lead to problems, particularly excluding people who struggle in an interview situation. Focus on asking the questions that really matter.
So you’ve chosen the right person. But that’s not where your problems end…
Many nursery inductions are rushed, and leave people starting off by diving straight into the deep end with lead weights on their feet. What’s more, managers forget that inductions are an opportunity to get people excited and engaged – they’re not just about educating your new member of staff.
- Mix Policy With Positives – Don’t just talk about health and safety. Talk about training opportunities. The important role they’re playing in development. Get them to talk to fully engaged members of the team.
- Stop Volunteering – Starting with a small volunteer period is just a back-up for poor recruitment practices. It starts people off on a negative foot if you do choose to employ them afterwards. Consider probation periods instead.
- Start on a Quiet Day – The reality is practitioners need to get their hands dirty early. Reduce the information overload by starting them on a quiet day when they have the time and space to learn the ropes.
Studies suggest a lack of training opportunities are the number one cause of turnover.
Often, this may be a member of staff’s first real job. Offering no opportunities to grow and improve their skills is a mistake that too many nurseries make. After all, they’re passionate about helping children to grow and learn – helping them improve the way they do this is essential in keeping them at your setting.
- It’s worth the investment – For two reasons. The cost of replacing staff in terms of money and your time is high. Plus in an industry where word of mouth matters, good staff are the key to your occupancy.
- Sell WHY training is good for them – Sometimes people need a gentle push This can be difficult when you’re forking out the money, but it is important to frame it in terms of how it will help them develop their skills
- Pay for their time – It might not be possible for you to pay for all of their study time. But if you force people to work outside of hours they’ll be overworked and they may choose to take their new expertise elsewhere.
4. Poor Organisation
Whether the rota is a mess or you’re always booking last minute meetings, you can’t let poor organisation be the reason for your poor staff retention.
Many nursery workers have cited poor organisation as the main reason for discontent. If you’re always asking for people to do things last minute, you’re not letting people plan their own time properly.
- Clear holiday request guidelines – Make it clear how many staff can be off at once, how far in advance holiday needs to be requested and so on. Making this clear from the start can help friction.
- Pay them for meetings – Staff meetings are key for communication, discussing child solutions and fostering a team spirit. Don’t ruin something good by making staff take them out of their own time.
- Plan. Plan. Plan – Manage your communications in one place. Don’t tell people about a training day the day before. If you plan better, you’ll have more time and happier staff.
5. Empowering Staff
After poor pay, the second biggest cause of dissatisfaction is a perceived lack of value in the role. How can we help this?
While many practitioners are incredibly passionate and proud of the work they do, many feel undervalued by society at large. This can lead to talented workers leaving the sector altogether. Helping to empower your employees and making them feel good about the work that they do is crucial.
- Transparency around pay – Pay is difficult in such an underfunded sector. But being open gives you the opportunity to explain why things are the way they are. Show that you’re in line with market rates and what they can do to get increased wages.
- What they do vs Who they are – Poor communication can make people think that the amount you pay and the amount you value them is to do with who they are as people. Clear structures and career paths will show that it is what they know and not who they are that is what matters.
- Dealing with Parents – Being seen as a source of expertise on child development is a great way to make practitioners feel valued. Building relationships between your staff and parents can help them to feel more knowledgeable and valued.
6.Pay Reviews & Targets
How do you deal with pay reviews and targets? Is there a way that your system could be better set up to help encourage staff to stay with you?
With concerns over the impact of pay rises, many nurseries have, at best, woolly policies on reviews and staff targets. But avoiding these situations only makes staff feel more unstable. Even if there is no more money in the coffers, transparency gives you a chance to explain the situation and include them in the solution.
- Connect pay to value added – If you connect pay increases with value added to the nursery then it’s win-win for everyone. Increased training might mean higher staff to child ratios. Training to learn certain skills could help management workload and give you time to improve occupancy.
- Transparency – Putting off reviews and giving ill-defined career structures helps no one. Help your practitioners to understand where they are and what they can do to improve is essential to keeping them on your side.
- Don’t patronise – Random rewards and gifts don’t make up for lower pay – in fact it can actually negatively affect morale. Instead, save the money for more meaningful things like training, or extra time off.
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