Employee engagement may seem like the least of your child care centre’s problems whilst the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. But the reality is, you can’t afford to let engagement slide.
Staff engagement plays a major role in both your ability to retain talented workers and to deliver world-class education to the families in your care. When your workers feel engaged on the job, they’re happier and experience less stress – which, in turn, enables them to devote more time and attention to the children in your care.
Technology like employee engagement software can help, but only if you understand why you need it and how to use it.
The Ongoing Challenge of Childcare and Early Education Worker Retention
Retention issues are nothing new to Australian childcare and early education providers. In their report, Low pay but still we stay: Retention in early childhood education and care, researchers Paula McDonald, Karen Thorpe, and Susan Irvine note that:
“In Australia, the percentage of job turnover amongst early childhood education and care (ECEC) employees each year has been estimated to be more than 30% for over a decade”, and that, “Such turnover includes churn within the sector as educators move between centres, with educators averaging 3.5 years’ tenure within a centre.”
Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has added another layer of complication on top of these existing challenges. Facilities closures may impact workers if the centres where they work close (as in Victoria), or if the facilities they rely on for child care shut down. Workers may also become ill themselves (or need to isolate themselves following exposure), or if they need time away to care for other ill family members. Even if they aren’t directly impacted, care workers still experience pandemic-related stress, which may affect the quality of education they provide.
Why Worker Retention Matters
While it’s true that happier workers provide better quality education to the children in your care, that’s not the only reason your childcare centre needs to prioritise worker retention.
Although it may feel as if the global coronavirus pandemic will never end, there will come a time – whether in a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years – when effective treatments and therapies are discovered, and life largely returns to normal. When that happens, it is the childcare centres that will have managed to retain top talent that are likely to come out ahead.
While COVID has made the labour market more challenging in some ways for employees, it has also created an increased demand for top workers. If these workers are incentivised away from your centre due to low morale and the perception that they’ll be more respected elsewhere, you’ll lose the institutional knowledge they had, as well as your ability to recover quickly once the situation turns around.
For these reasons, worker morale shouldn’t be considered a ‘nice to have’. It needs to be a top priority for your business’s long-term survival.
How Childcare and Early Education Centres Can Improve Worker Morale
If your investment in worker morale has been on the decline, consider the following recommendations from the Australian Psychological Society (APS) on increasing engagement during and post COVID:
Checking in regularly with employees
According to the APS, “Leadership positively impacts engagement, particularly through the provision of support and feedback.”
Take the time to evaluate whether or not you’ve allowed current conditions to influence the ways you connect with staff members. Have you stopped checking in with them as frequently, due to all of the new demands COVID has placed on your plate? Have you delayed reviews or other opportunities to offer feedback while everyone is in ‘survival mode’? Are you less active on-site in an effort to reduce potential disease transmission, such that you give in-person appreciation less frequently?
Although it’s tempting to shift these responsibilities to the back burner amidst the more pressing concerns associated with COVID, underperforming as a leader can have long-term ramifications. If workers no longer feel that you or your managers are as invested in their well-being as you were before the pandemic, you risk them jumping ship to centres that promise better support or working conditions.
Showing appreciation and acknowledging effort
The APS notes that, “In our current state of disruption and uncertainty, recognition is one of the simplest and easiest strategies to continue with, as it requires little effort and doesn’t cost anything. Now is a good time to remind leaders and employees of the value of saying thanks, and letting employees know that their effort to persist with their jobs despite current adversities is appreciated and valued.”
Don’t leave recognition to chance. Don’t assume that, when the moment calls for it, you’ll step up and offer the kind of appreciation and reassurance workers are seeking in this uncertain new environment. Instead, make a diligent practise of acknowledging effort on a regular basis.
Add a daily or weekly reminder to your diary to offer appreciation to one or more members of your staff. Establish a formal process for everyone on your staff to recognise good work done by others. Set an agenda item aside in every whole-company meeting to share your appreciation for specific actions undertaken by members of your team.
Remember, it’s less important how you share feedback and appreciation. It’s more important that you figure out a pattern of recognition that works for your team and that you can consistently sustain.
Enabling teamwork and collaboration
Finally, in their report, APS suggests that childcare centres, “Make technology available to enable connection and encourage its use. Provide your staff with opportunities to talk to colleagues, develop personal relationships, discuss opinions, share ideas and collectively problem-solve. This will increase social support and opportunities to influence decision-making, thus enhancing engagement and wellbeing.”
As work schedules become more irregular and workers need to cover more frequently than before, this type of collaboration technology has become more important than ever. However, you can’t simply pick a new software programme at random, install it, and hope for the best. Much more needs to go into your selection process when it comes to employee engagement software for childcare and early education centres.
The Role of Employee Engagement Software in Worker Engagement and Retention
Employee engagement software can be used to deliver on the APS’s suggestions described above, but only if you have the right technology in place.
For instance, if your centre is currently using a simple rostering or time-keeping app, your technology likely doesn’t have the full capabilities required to enable teamwork and collaboration from within a central platform. For true engagement, you need a robust mobile app like Humanforce.
Once implemented, software like Humanforce can be used to:
- Send messages directly to individual workers to check in with them and see how they’re going. This capability becomes even more important if your centre closes or if individual team members must take time off to care for themselves or others.
- Send team-wide messages sharing your appreciation. The unique challenges of the COVID area mean that some of the suggestions described above – whole team meetings, for example – aren’t feasible or safe. While sharing appreciation in person is always desirable, workforce management software can ensure your feedback is still communicated if you can’t meet face to face.
- Facilitate common work requirements, including checking schedules, swapping shifts, requesting or managing leave, updating licences or certifications, and clocking in and out. Mobile clocking solutions limit the potential for cross-contamination at clocking kiosks, while app-enabled scheduling makes it easier and less stressful for workers to navigate their increased need for flexibility at this time.
Using Technology to Improve Team Morale
Ultimately, improving worker morale at your child care centre doesn’t have to be a big production. You don’t need costly incentives or promotions to get the job done.
What your workers need to hear from you right now is that you appreciate the work they’re doing under these difficult circumstances and that you’re committed to supporting their success – even though the world looks very different right now. Using technology to express your gratitude and make workers’ lives easier can be enough to get them through these challenging times.
Want to see how Humanforce can support the specific workflows at your childcare centre? Reach out to a Humanforce expert for more information.