Let me say it loud and clear staff wellbeing cannot be taken care of, or sorted out with a wellbeing basket and a facemask. In fact, it is high time we took personal responsibility for our understanding of what wellbeing really means for our Early Years workforce.
I cannot be the only one to have noticed staff wellbeing seems to feel like a quick fix for so many, a sticking plaster to hide the real issues that are making us so desperately unhappy, overworked, unsupported and exhausted.
I see many managers asking questions along the lines of “what do you for for staff wellbeing?” Here is my answer: take care of yourself and your team every single day! Treat each other fairly and with respect. Set out a clear pedagogy/vision/ethos/philosophy that everyone understands then practice and follow that vision to a high standard every single day. Support each other when you need further training and support to do your role. Identify your strengths and celebrate them – work on your reflective practice, there are always things to improve upon and that is okay but you need to be able admit what they are. It’s okay not to know stuff – it is not okay not to try.
Maybe the biggest of all – stop doing unnecessary stuff, like certain paper work, tick lists, journals, daily diaries, planning and observations. Take time to think about, what you do and why you do it? In our quest to prove how outstanding our provision is, we do unnecessary and over complicated stuff – that puts pressure on us and takes us away from the children and then we produce this unnecessary stuff for Ofsted, the Local Authority, line managers, consultants and even parents. We need to stop.
It is time as a sector, that we take notice of how the pressure and workload can impact on the mental and physical health of our workforce. The warning is clear, make time to take care of your health now or pay for it later. How many of us can put our hands up and say we have felt stress recently. Stress because of our job role, how we are managed, supported, treated and the workload pressure and overwhelming responsibility. Our bodies are not wired to constantly live with stress, if untreated, it may lead to other health issues if not taken care of, headaches, migraines, fatigue, insomnia, burn out, even anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
Staff wellbeing is less about face masks, wellbeing baskets, cakes and ill thought out one off gestures and more about the every day actions in your work place. How consistent and effective leadership is, how staff treat and speak to each other, how well staff are supported with the support, skills, knowledge they need to perform their job roles. It’s all the little things you do everyday that enable you to feel happy, healthy and comfortable at work. It is not the grand gestures. Although please don’t get me wrong, of course it is nice to find a cake in the staff room, we can all appreciate a thoughtful gesture, but if we are increasingly unhappy or feel frustrated with things within our workplace then these gestures can fall flat and then managers can often be left feeling resentful and wondered why they bothered.
When Ofsted introduced Wellbeing in the Education Inspection Framework 2019, I jumped for joy. Yet the term ‘wellbeing issues’ seems to have sent people into a tailspin. Ofsted hope to see how well staff are supported and how quickly we address the things that are impacting on our ability to do our job role. We do that through effective induction, supervision and appraisal – like the children we care for, we all want to be seen and heard and that our thoughts and feelings are valued and respected – and that goes for managers too. The consequence of this is a mentally unhealthy workforce and I cannot help but think of the consequence of this for the children in our care.
Sadly we have gotten so busy caring for other people we have forgotten how to take care of ourselves. It is time to take charge and personal responsibility of our health and our actions and take urgent action to reduce the things that impact on our health, harmony and happiness at work. So next time you see someone ask about wellbeing, don’t talk about face masks, talk about the everyday practice and culture of the workplace and how the everyday operation and practice will determine how happy and healthy staff are at work, which contributes to our overall health and wellbeing and how we are all learning how to take steps to understand it and take care of it.