Retention in the early years and why it matters

High staff turnover and recruitment challenges make providing a high quality early years experience difficult. Jamel C Campbell shares ways to boost staff retention and morale

Author details

Jamel C Campbell is an early years educator and consultant and an aspiring children’s author. Early years is his speciality but he has worked in youth clubs, schools, been a mentor to many and supported children with SEND. Jamel C Campbell is one...

The early years is such an important sector with a diverse group of professionals and agencies working together to support the development of children. It’s such a shame that the sector has a high staff turnover and recruitment figures are much lower than other sectors.

This vision is often lost due to stress and not being able to fulfil your duties, causing a lack of motivation and stimulation

Why is this?

Low pay, long hours and large workloads are all contributing factors. In turn, this causes high volumes of sick leaves and high levels of stress.

A typical early years day starts at 7.30am and can finish at 6.30pm, with some settings giving their staff members only a 30-45 minute break.

If you’re joining the early years to make an instant financial return, this is not the profession to do so. Early years educators, early years teachers and practitioners in nursery settings (compared to their primary and secondary school counterparts) are the lowest paid in the education sector.

Those who join the sector based on pay end up leaving due to disappointment, stress and lack of financial security.

This is a sector for those that enjoy working with children and supporting their development. Sadly, this vision is often lost due to stress and not being able to fulfil your duties, causing a lack of motivation and stimulation.

The sickness domino effect

Due to long hours and heavy workloads, I’ve noticed a high volume of sick leave. This then puts pressure on the remaining members of staff who have to take over the workload of their absent colleagues. This doubling of an already heavy workload can cause members of staff to become stressed.

This stress can then result in some of those members of staff becoming ill and exhausted. This continues to lower morale, increasing cases of sick leave and, in worst case scenarios, causing members of staff to hand in their notice.

What can we do about it?

Early years educators and management teams have a responsibility to support each other and to create a working environment that is calm and pleasant for children and staff alike.

Creating an environment that is safe and learning enriched is paramount

We all know the negative factors, but the most important factor we need to acknowledge is that we’re working with children. They pick up on any turbulence, even if nothing is said directly to them. Creating an environment that is safe and learning enriched is paramount.

It’s also important to exhibit emotional intelligence and empathy. Understanding our colleague’s moods, and recognising our own, can help us create solutions and have insight into how best to support each other.

Communication is the key!

Staff members need to feel valued and supported. Your team needs to feel they’re heard and their achievements are being acknowledged. Praise should be given when necessary.

Support staff progression

A well-equipped employee is a valuable asset to any workforce. Legislations and early years guidelines are always changing, so employee development is a good way to not only keep staff up to speed, but also to encourage them to climb the career ladder and take up new responsibilities.

Seeing the potential of your staff members and unlocking that potential will in-turn motivate your team and increase their self-esteem.

The reward we receive from helping children to thrive and flourish is priceless

A team that feels valued will share their energy and enthusiasm, not only with each other, but with new members of staff too.

Focus on retention

We know that recruitment is an issue in the early years but it shouldn’t be the key focus. Retention is the backbone to building any workforce: ensuring that your team are happy means that they stay for longer. This then helps to develop a culture of positive roles models that will guide, mentor and support new members of staff.

Some people think that the early years is a low pay grade, undesirable sector to work in but regardless of the workload and pay, the reward we receive from helping children to thrive and flourish is priceless and far greater than any financial gain or benefit.

We are building the community of the future and it’s time the world acknowledges this.

Five retention tips

  • Provide a quiet/safe space for staff to unwind and relax when they might be stressed or feeling low. The wellbeing of your staff members matters. If they’re not feeling good mentally or physically they cannot fulfil their duties.
  • Give annual performance-based pay reviews coupled with appraisals. Giving members of staff targets and goals to work towards keeps them motivated and provides them with things to look forward to in their career.
  • Create an environment that embraces diversity and culture. Celebrate festivals and cultural events, while being mindful of tokenism.
  • Minimise paper work and checklists. Provide members of staff with weekly time out of the rooms to complete observations and required paperwork, so they don’t have to complete tasks in their own time or after work.
  • Provide members of staff with clear career pathways, CPD and training timetables to support their development and progression. Encourage them to take on new responsibilities and step up within your setting or company.

Retention is the key to balancing the recruitment crisis we face in the early years. Supporting the wellbeing and progression of your team is the first step in working towards this.

Last Updated: 
09 Oct 2019