How to improve staff wellbeing in early years settings

Citation NDNA Children

Staff wellbeing should be a priority for any organisation – especially post-pandemic. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in six employees experience mental ill health each year, and the Centre for Mental Health has estimated that at least half a million more people in the UK will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year.

And wellbeing isn’t just mental health – it also encompasses physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, social wellbeing, and more.

In early years education, there’s a big responsibility on the shoulders of employees. They play a part in the cognitive, emotional and social development of the children they’re working with, which can be extremely rewarding. But it can also mean staff wellbeing takes a back seat – particularly when the pressure and stress of the role get too much, with long hours and a lot of invested parties to handle.

Because of this, many may not have the time to think about their own wellbeing or may not see it as a priority. As a result, staff wellbeing in early years education can suffer.

So, what can you do as an employer in early years education to help improve staff wellbeing?


Why is staff wellbeing so important?

Working in an early years setting can be stressful and exhausting. If the wellbeing of staff isn’t prioritised, it can create a negative and unproductive work environment and make it harder to retain staff. You could also see increases in sickness absence, presenteeism and absenteeism, which will make it a lot harder to meet the needs of the children in your setting.

Taking steps to improve staff wellbeing in early years education will help all staff to feel their best, giving them the tools they need to provide the best care possible to the children.

Good staff wellbeing in early years education can also lead to:

  • Reduced short-term and long-term sickness absences
  • Improved job satisfaction – supporting staff retention
  • A positive effect on the children in your setting, including stronger relationships between staff and children
  • Help staff manage stress more effectively and develop better coping strategies
  • Increased productivity
  • Staff feeling valued, supported and invested in


What are some of the staff wellbeing challenges that early years employers face?

Working days in early years settings can be long. And, while it can be incredibly rewarding working with children, it can also be tiring and stressful, especially with the recent challenges caused by COVID-19 – particularly the need to stay within legal staff:child ratios for early years foundation stage (EYFS) while dealing with sickness absences.

Employees also struggle with the time-consuming pressures of:

  • Planning
  • Assessments
  • Safeguarding
  • SEND
  • Targets
  • The emotional, social and learning challenges of children
  • Workloads

All of this can make it hard for early years professionals to shut off. It’s common for your employees to be extremely emotionally invested in the job, which can make it hard to step outside of its pressures when at home.

This means that there may not always be an opportunity for an individual to take some time out for themselves or prioritise their wellbeing. Caring for and teaching children will always be a priority, but it’s important that staff look after their wellbeing, too – this will put them in a much better position to check that children’s wellbeing is being supported, too.


Improving staff wellbeing in early years

For almost half of respondents in a recent survey of early years professionals, access to occupational health or mental health professionals was among their top three choices for ways to improve mental health and wellbeing at work. An easy and cost-effective way of doing this is through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), where employees can access a trained counsellor 24/7 over the phone for support with mental health issues, financial difficulties, relationship problems, work-related struggles, and more.

You could also consider the following steps:

Early years staff wellbeing questionnaire

It’s always important to get a measure of the wellbeing of staff and give them a forum to express ways in which wellbeing could be improved. This could be done through appraisals or by completing a wellbeing questionnaire.

Early years staff wellbeing questionnaires should cover topics such as:

  • Leadership and management
  • Ethos and environment
  • Staff training and development
  • Staff views on work and wellbeing
  • How the early years environment promotes staff emotional health and wellbeing

Early years staff wellbeing policies

It could be a good idea to implement an early years staff wellbeing policy that details the aims of the company, how you intend to improve staff wellbeing, and the resources available to your team – such as an EAP.

Once you’ve created your staff wellbeing policy, it’s essential that staff are made aware of it and are committed to making it work. Making sure everyone is aware of the policies’ main points and regularly reviewing this during appraisals will help to improve staff wellbeing over time.

Creating a positive workplace culture in nurseries

It’s so important that there’s a positive, supportive culture in the workplace to help improve staff wellbeing in early years settings.

A staff wellbeing policy would be a good place to start. This can be included as part of your induction process, with extracts placed on notice boards to make sure everyone’s aware of the support available.

Making sure your management is accessible at all levels will also help with wellbeing and building an open and supportive culture, as well as having nominated people within the workplace who can help with any wellbeing issues – trained mental health first aiders can be extremely useful.

You could also look at flexible working so that staff have time to fit in leisure activities outside of work – such as going swimming in the morning before work, or having time for a walk in the daylight – and build a more healthy work-life balance.

Having a dedicated quiet area where staff can go to take some time out will also be helpful to nurture this culture in the workplace – even if this is just an area of the staff room away from any televisions or radios, where an individual can take a few moments to themselves or read a book, for example.

As well as this, ratios may make it difficult to hold away days or provide regular time out, but ensuring that staff know they are valued by providing positive feedback will help with creating a positive workplace culture.


Improve staff wellbeing in early years settings with Citation

When it comes to promoting positive employee wellbeing, we can help you implement the right tools to support your early years staff. Our Employee Assistance Programme gives your staff unlimited support and practical advice from qualified counsellors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while our HR & Employment Law consultants can help you create the policies and handbooks you need to manage wellbeing. They can also be available to talk you through any wellbeing-related issues – such as long-term sickness absences – should you need them.

All of this means you can reduce absences, boost productivity, and save on unnecessary costs.

As an NDNA partner, we’re a trusted provider in the industry – so you can have faith that we know how to help you manage the challenges unique to your early years setting.

Check out our savings calculator to see how much you could save by partnering with us, or simply get in touch with a member of the Citation team to see how your nursery could benefit by filling in the form on this page or calling 0345 844 1111.

Also, check out our great free resources below for more help with managing staff wellbeing!

Top tips for preventing employee burnout

Download our exclusive visual checklist containing advisory tips from our experts on how you can prevent employees from burning out.

Download the guide

A beginner’s guide to stress risk assessments

Discover your legal responsibilities when it comes to stress risk assessments and how to go about completing them with this free guide from our Health & Safety experts.

Download the guide

Managing employee wellbeing

Employers free guide to managing employee wellbeing through COVID-19 and beyond

Download the guide

Flexible working: your responsibilities

Everything you need to know about your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to flexible working requests.

Download the guide

Recruiting and retaining talent in your nursery

Your free guide to staff recruitment and retention in your nursery

Download the guide

Managing long-term sickness absence

An exclusive guide on managing long-term sickness, health conditions and long COVID-19 in your workforce.

Download the guide

Managing short-term sickness absence

Our experts have summarised how you can best manage short-term sickness absence in your business.

Download the guide

Get more information

Pop in your details and we'll call you straight back

We'll get back to you as soon as we can.