When I was working as a manager, I would often find myself feeling frustrated with my team. Why didn’t they appear to care about things as much as me? Why didn’t they go above and beyond and make things happen the way I did? If they rang in sick, sometimes I would feel annoyed and think if I can make it into work when I am not feeling well so can they! I would bring in cakes and sweets for staff meetings and sometimes I wondered why I bothered. I would take time to write inspiring quotes and print off nice things for the staff room and staff notice board, half the time it felt like nobody noticed. Overtime I gradually began to resent my team for not making as much effort or seemingly being as a dedicated to their job role as me. What was I doing wrong as a manager if I could not inspire this motivation from my team?
There is no big revelation here but what did provide some clarity was when I realised this, to them it was – just a job. Don’t get me wrong here, they enjoyed their job role, but it was just a job to them. A job that they all did very well, showed up to everyday and did their best but went home to enjoy the rest of their lives. They had their own things going on, their own interests and circumstances. I look back now and know they were the ones with the right idea! My team was made up of an array of different personalities and characters I can’t say every single person were the best of friends, but we were like a family and we all had our roles and our different skills, talents and strengths.
The problem though, was that it was – so much more than just a job for me. My job role consumed my life. I describe this period in my life as “eating, sleeping breathing early years”! I was also studying for my Foundation Degree and eventually my BA (Hons), so I never seemed to switch off and my job role became my life and there were never enough hours in the day. My role was brand new and I had been employed to open a Childcare setting within an Ofsted Graded Outstanding school with an existing Before & After School Club and holiday club that was also Outstanding. The pressure was enormous – after many deputy roles and temporary manager experiences, this was my first full time managers role and I wanted to prove I was good enough. So, without realising it at the time, that is just what I did – I worked myself into the ground proving myself – proving that I was worthy of this role and good enough, clever enough, knowledgeable and experienced enough.
I can look back and laugh about it now, but I wonder what it must have felt like to have me as a manager! I would come in after reading an article or seeing something and I would be like “WOW, take a look at this girls, isn’t this wonderful?”. “How about doing something like this?” I can see the look on some of their faces still, “thinking, what on earth is she on about now”? I can remember coming in to work struggling to carry a large lamp for one of the rooms – it was massive and didn’t even suit the space and it looked ridiculous! I was just so passionate about what I was doing I would pull us in all different directions with my enthusiasm without realising it. When I had the opportunity to visit Reggio Emilia with university I must have actually been so obnoxious with my thirst for sharing the wonderful things I had experienced!
The thing is, it was a long time before I could laugh about this because whilst I was busy working so hard, juggling university and my home and family life, unexpected life events landed in my lap that I had no room left to deal with. Stress had led to anxiety and eventually that lead to depression and being signed off work on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. I have to emphasise this wasn’t just down to my role, it was a lifetime of events, not taking care of myself properly, not thinking positively about myself, having low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth.
I see so many managers expressing the same frustrations with the same worries and issues with their team. Understand this, Stop expecting you from someone else. Without knowing it then, that it is why I was always left feeling disappointed. Just because I was going above and beyond, motivated by my own reasons, doing whatever it took, didn’t mean I should expect that from them, but I did. Therefore, they would always fall short of my expectations. In turn I would work harder, take on more, try to get them to do more, but they would not understand my motivation, and not value what I was doing, therefore they were not appreciative or grateful. I prided myself on being a role model to them, dedicated and passionate and hoped that would inspire their practice. What I learnt is this, there is nothing more important than our health, the role model they actually needed from me, is one that protected them from anything that impacted on our wellbeing. In our case it was proving to everyone else our provision was good enough – so I let us get carried away doing unnecessary things and that took up our time and distracted us from what we were there to do.
Working in early years is so emotive – it becomes more than a job if you let it. Working with children is more than a chosen profession, it is a calling. I believe you either have the gift or you don’t, it can’t be taught, so it becomes very personal to you, part of who you are. What I am trying to say is, it is then especially hard to not take things personally when things arise professionally in the workplace. It is impossible to not become emotionally invested when you are caring for babies and children, day in and day out and forming relationships with families and working so closely with colleagues. It is like a family and like all families we all have our issues and our relationships with each other can all be a little tricky.
If you are a manager and are having issues with your work family, then having some honest conversations with yourself about your motivations and the expectations you have set for yourself and your team, is not only important, I would say it is essential. We spend so much of our time doing our very best to understand the children in our care but to be really happy at work we need to dedicate some of that time to understand each other.
Whilst having a job is important and a big part of lives and our identity – there is also more to life than work. If your job role is impacting on your health and happiness, something has to change, that change can come when you find that balance between work, rest and play!
Kate Moxley has worked in Early Years for over 24 years and now works as a consultant specialising in Mental Health and Wellbeing training, team building and supporting managers and their teams.