Reducing staff turnover in the early childhood sector – Practical Strategies

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  Published on Tuesday, 03 April 2018

Reducing staff turnover in the early childhood sector – Practical Strategies

Library Home  >  Leadership & Service Management
  Published on Tuesday, 03 April 2018

High staff turnover is a familiar problem for everyone responsible with hiring and managing staff in the early childhood sector. Low pay, long hours and poor recognition of the importance of the work, mean many people enter the job as a stepping-stone to something else.

In fact, a 2016 study conducted at QUT showed that as many as one in five early childhood educators planned to leave their jobs in the next five years. This is bad news for service managers, bad news for families and children and bad news for the sector more widely as high staff turnover is expensive, disruptive and time-consuming.

The obvious answer to high turnover is to pay early childhood staff more, however, this is not an option for many directors, and owing to the fact low pay is only one of the reasons why people leave, is a narrow-focused solution to what is a more wide-reaching problem.

So, what's the answer to this most perennial of challenges?

1. Look at your recruitment practices

It may be worth analysing your recruitment practices to determine whether you are attracting and employing people who are the best cultural fit for your service. All teams have their own dynamics and assuming a high performing environment, it's important to hire people who will fit in and, if possible, improve that dynamic. Consider where you are posting your jobs, what questions you are asking in your advertising and what information you are supplying about your service.

Including a carefully crafted description of your service, enrolled families, what personal and professional qualities you value in staff, what incentives and opportunities you offer and what makes your service unique or interesting, will give candidates a detailed picture of what it would be like to work there and whether they will fit in and thrive.

The flip side of this is to screen all candidates in line with your job description, and only interview those who have answered your selection criteria. Similarly, when establishing your interview panel ensure you include people who have a detailed knowledge of your organisational culture and who have a complementary but different perspective to yours to ensure you minimise the impact of inherent bias.

2. Consider your current staff… carefully

Often, it's easy to tell someone is unhappy and/or gearing up to leave their job. A recent article on says classic warning signs include: taking more phone calls than usual and seeking privacy to talk, increased frustration and dissatisfaction with issues which haven't changed and more frequent sick days.

If you identify any of these signs in an employee you want to retain, then don't ignore them! Take the opportunity to pull your staff member aside and talk to them directly about what you have noticed, what your concerns are and whether there is anything you can do to support them.

If you identify the signs in a staff member you are prepared to let go, then advance plan your recruitment, transition and handover strategy and have a think about how you will communicate the news to the rest of the team. Try to be generous and understanding when your staff member 'breaks' the news to you, many people feel nervous about handing in their resignation and making the process easier will reduce stress levels for everyone.

3. Think outside the box

Time and time again surveys show that money is just a small part of the equation when it comes to employee decisions around whether to stay or leave a job, and this is probably even more applicable in the early childhood sector where the people we interview for this newsletter talk about their job with passion and enthusiasm and seem dedicated to doing their absolute best.

If you appreciate your staff and want them to stay, look at the non-pay related changes you can make to improve their working life. Consider offering training and professional development opportunities so staff have the opportunity to grow their skills and advance their career. A more highly skilled workforce is also great for children and appealing to families weighing up their options.

Offering staff opportunities to step up in their roles is also helpful, this may include giving people the opportunity to take charge of programming the activities for the day, completing learning stories, acting up if someone is on leave and/or showing parents around. The key is to give staff the chance to do something they don't usually do.

4. Be a good boss

Let’s be honest, this is sometimes easier said than done and despite your best intentions it's easy to become bogged down in paperwork and caught up with phone calls and emails. Despite the never ending distractions facing the average early childhood director try and take time to check your team has the resources and equipment necessary to do a great job. Ensure they are taking breaks and meals at the correct times and for the appropriate duration. Working with children is rewarding but exhausting and acknowledging and taking steps to support the wellbeing of staff works both ways.

5. Say thank you… often and sincerely

Employees who feel valued, acknowledged and appreciated are much less likely to leave their job. Taking the time to say a warm thank you regularly and sincerely is possibly the most cost effective way to retain your staff and yet so easy to forget. Thank yous can be small, quiet and personal or large and in a group and celebrated with homemade cake. Also, be sure to pass on positive feedback from parents.

Taking a genuine interest in your staff and celebrating personal milestones can also help to build a strong team and feelings of inclusion and loyalty. Hang a noticeboard for sharing photos, try and remember birthdays and take the time to check in with your staff on a personal level.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 22 January 2020