High stress levels in early childhood workforce

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2018

High stress levels in early childhood workforce

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Does this sound like you?

"It can sometimes feel like it will never end with no light at the end of the tunnel."

"I feel I am on a treadmill that I struggle to get off."

"I had a mental breakdown in June and left [the sector] on my doctor's advice … then my marriage of 36 years ended."

A recent survey out of the UK has shown that a quarter of the early childhood workforce is considering quitting the sector as a result of stress and mental health difficulties. The Minds Matter Survey, of more than 2000 early childhood professionals in England, conducted by the early years membership organisation, Pre-School Learning Alliance, also revealed that:

  • 57 per cent of early years professionals say they have suffered from anxiety as a result of work, while 26 per cent have experienced depression.
  • 65 per cent say work-related stress or mental health difficulties have impacted on their personal relationships, while 45 per cent say their work performance has been negatively affected.
  • 74 per cent have regularly felt stressed about work or an issue relating to work over the past month.
  • 61 per cent don't feel that they have a good work-life balance.
  • 23 per cent have taken time off work as a result of work-related stress or mental health issues.

Survey respondents – who were mainly comprised of child care centre / pre-school owners, managers and staff, as well as child minders – also said they had suffered serious physical consequences as a result of work-related stress, including high blood pressure, palpitations and in a small number of cases, strokes and heart attacks. 45 respondents (2 per cent) said that they had experienced thoughts of ending their own lives.

The main sources of stress cited by respondents were high workloads (in particular, paperwork and administration), financial pressures stemming from a lack of adequate government funding, and low pay.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said the survey reveals the impacts of excessive workloads and financial pressure experienced by many early childhood workers.

"When you get to a situation where a quarter of your workforce is actively considering quitting, it's clear something needs to change. Those that work in the early years do what they do because they are committed to helping young children learn and develop, but when working in the sector is affecting their mental – and physical – health, impacting on their ability to do their jobs properly and, in some cases, costing them their relationships, it's hard to blame those that decide: 'Enough is enough'.

Developing professional resilience
According to the KidsMatter Early Childhood Initiative, an effective way to reduce the impacts of stress on early childhood workers is to implement strategies for building professional resilience.

Professional resilience is an individual's capacity to thrive in situations of high demand and ongoing pressure, and the ability to bounce back from challenges, difficulties and setbacks and use those experiences develop in the workplace.

Kids Matter offers seven ideas for building professional resilience in the early childhood workforce:

1. Build supportive relationships

Strong relationships in the workplace are powerful contributors to professional resilience. People have the capacity to tolerate more stress when they have supportive relationships with managers and colleagues. This is because relationships help employees share ideas, vent frustrations, obtain support and generate plans for tackling workplace challenges.

2. Think positively

How we feel is often a consequence of how we think and behave. Looking for the positive in situations can lessen stress and boost constructive actions. Support positivity by:

  • displaying or thinking attitudes like 'I know I can get through this.'
  • having a focus on finding solutions
  • understanding what can and can’t be controlled
  • expecting the best out of every situation

3. Use your strengths

Becoming aware of your strengths can help you draw on them during challenging and demanding situations. Having the opportunity to utilise your strengths can change your feeling of satisfaction about your role too.

4. Do the type of work that you enjoy doing

Discussing with your manager which parts of your role are most satisfying may open up opportunities to engage in this type of work more often. When you enjoy the work you do, and feel satisfied, you are less likely to be affected by the parts of your work that you don’t particularly like.

5. Do something

Professionally resilient people are prepared to act. They keep the focus on what they can do to overcome challenges, reduce stress or manage a difficult situation. Noticing and remembering what internal strengths and external supports or processes assisted you to 'bounce back' can provide solutions and plans for future situations too.

6. Look after your health and wellbeing

Doing things that you enjoy outside of work, socialising, leaving enough time for rest and relaxation, eating well, getting enough sleep and doing exercise all support a balanced lifestyle and help to buffer some of the negative experiences that may come your way. If you're finding it difficult to cope it may be helpful to speak to a GP or mental health professional.

7. Laugh

Bringing in an element of fun at your workplace can help ease stress and make some of the demands of work easier to overcome. It also supports the development of those positive relationships that are great for reducing stress.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2020