To recognise World Mental Health Day on 10th October, Paint Pots Nurseries, Southampton are signing our Time for Change pledge https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/get-your-workplace-involved/employer-pledge
We are holding events at each of our settings to mark the occasion, as well as inviting the media along to publicise our commitment to supporting and improving the well-being of our team. We are doing so to raise general awareness of the issue of mental health and well-being, in the hope that our example might encourage others to do likewise.
We have taken the opportunity to ask our teams what their perceived issues are, how we are meeting their needs as an organisation and how we might better support them going forward. In general, we have been encouraged by the results of our survey but it is evident that there are areas where we need to take action.
We surveyed our team – all 160 employees, including managers, practitioners, cooks, cleaners, admin and maintenance staff. We will repeat the exercise at the end of our Time to Change pledge project (see below) to gauge any improvements in staff well-being. We have asked for volunteers to act as a well-being champion for each of our settings. Together, with these volunteers, we have created a job description for the role of well-being champion.
With the help of our well-being champions, we analysed the results of our survey to identify areas for action, any solutions we could put in place immediately and to develop a new well-being policy.
Together we agreed a project plan, including our response to the Time to Change pledge.
We have planned activities, some of which are already done –
• Senior Management Team sign-off / commitment to Time to Change
• Senior Manager attendance at well-being for managers course.
• Sharing Senior Management stories of their personal well being challenges and how these have been overcome.
• Review existing policies and add additional policies relating to wellbeing and mental health.
• Review of return to work procedure following mental health illness.
• Signposting information available to all employees of services to support mental health and well-being in the local area and online.
• Adapting supervisions and appraisals to encourage employees to openly talk about their well-being.
• Review / remind staff awareness of reporting lines and confidentiality.
• Introduction of WAP (wellness action plans) which will take place before appraisals, to be offered to all employees.
• Schedule monthly meetings with well-being champions for the initial stages of the pledge.
• Singing the pledge on World Mental Health Day (October 10th) with a celebration at each Paint Pots and with press coverage to encourage other local employers to join us.
• Well-being champions to run events in their settings.
• Stress awareness to be included as part of our mandatory training programme.
• At induction, employees to be introduced to the well-being champion, read through policies and shown where signposting information is available.
• Employees to share coping strategies, stress awareness and relaxation techniques at staff meetings.
• Encourage normalisation of discussions on well-being matters.
• Case studies to be shared (with permission) with the wider team.
• Further training for managers – return to work meetings following illness, guidance following a disclosure.
• Resources and procedures including return to work plans following maternity leave, to recognise and support perinatal mental health.
• Team newsletters and website area to have new well-being sections.
Recent research from the Early Years Alliance – the Minds Matter survey from June 2018, https://www.eyalliance.org.uk/sites/default/files/minds-matter-report-.pdf contains some sobering findings, with evidence of perceived stress, mental health issues and poor work-life balance amongst many of our Early Years colleagues.
Ofsted has highlighted well-being as a key focus in the Education Inspection Framework. Staff well-being is referenced in several sections of the Early Years Inspection Handbook.
‘Outstanding’ settings are characterised as those where –
• Staff consistently report high levels of support for well-being issues.
• Leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that any issues are identified. When issues are identified – in particular about workload – they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.
And in ‘Good’ settings –
• Leaders engage with their staff and are aware of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload.
• Leaders have effective systems in place for the supervision and support of staff.
• Leaders protect staff from harassment, bullying and discrimination.
• Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and avoid unnecessary burdens for staff or children.
• Relationships among children, parents and staff reflect a positive and respectful culture.
Clearly, Ofsted are concerned for the well-being of Early Years staff and in particular, issues relating to workload, relationships, discrimination and bullying. Ofsted will rightly be asking for evidence of organisations’ actions to support teams. But our responsibility towards our teams must not be only to satisfy Ofsted any more than the teaching and care of the children we have the privilege of sharing our working lives with is not just to keep inspectors happy. We have a moral responsibility to everyone in our teams to ensure that we act. We cannot dismiss alarming statistics or justify the imposition of long hours and unreasonable workload on our teams on the grounds of budgetary constraint or the lack of qualified staff. It is not good enough to ignore this issue. Organisation leaders have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of those who work with them. With the knowledge that sustained stress can have serious long-term mental and physical health impacts, I believe that all leaders must ensure that their teams operate in a positive and respectful culture; that unnecessary burdens for staff are avoided; that effective support systems are in place and that these are focused on well-being. Failure to provide appropriate support could ultimately lead to action under employment law should it be deemed that there is evidence of unchecked bullying, harassment or failure to support or respond to stress or mental health issues.
Our research to date has already identified helpful resources, guidance and organisations to signpost individuals to. Reviewing our practice motivates us to continue to foster a culture of trust, respect and openness where we support one another and encourage sharing in a culture where everyone feels safe to do so and where they know who to turn to. Everyone needs to know that they matter for who they are, that their well-being is a priority and that we are doing all we can to support them. Paint Pots motto is Love, Laughter and Learning. We believe that if all the adults involved with Paint Pots experience Love and Laughter on a daily basis, there is more chance of our children doing so!
David Wright is co-owner of Paint Pots Nurseries, Southampton, along with his wife, Anna and son, Joseph. Paint Pots comprises 6 day nurseries, 3 preschools and an out of school club. David is a well-known commentator, conference speaker and broadcaster. He is the national representative for England to the World Forum on Early Childhood Education. He is an international advocate for Men in Early Years and the co-author, along with Dr Simon Brownhill, of the award winning book: Men in Early Years Settings (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, 2018). David is the founder of Southampton Area Men in Early Years and the charity Families First Southampton which works with families in need. He is the chair of trustees for New Life Home Trust UK CIO working to rescue abandoned babies in Kenya. He is sometimes better known by his twitter name @Mr_Paintpots !