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Early years staff say it’s time to make staff wellbeing a policy

Early years staff working in nurseries or preschools would like their settings to be more open about staff mental health, and to ensure staff wellbeing policies are in place and upheld. While many find their managers supportive, they would like more done to foster staff wellbeing in the workplace, particularly as we continue to face the impact of the pandemic.

The findings, based on a survey of just under 1,500 nursery staff, published today by the Anna Freud Centre, indicate that:

  • Nursery staff love their work, and many feel their settings are actively engaging with staff mental health and achieving positive results.
  • However, less than half (47%) were aware of whether their nursery had a mental health and wellbeing policy in place, and where no known policy was reported, staff stress levels were also found to be highest.
  • Nursery staff also said that the pandemic had taken its toll on their mental health, with 50% reporting that they felt unwell as a result of work-related stress during the past year and 66% reporting that the pandemic had impacted their wellbeing and mental health.

These findings represent the views of 1,458 nursery staff working in nurseries and preschool settings across England. Their responses were provided between 12 January 2021 and 2 February 2021. The survey was conducted by the Anna Freud Centre as it seeks to better understand and support staff wellbeing in nurseries and preschool settings. The findings are published today, within a report entitled ‘Early Years Staff Wellbeing: a resource for managers and teams'.

The Anna Freud Centre has been collaborating on the development of this initiative with a number of local authorities including Bury Council, Norfolk County Council, Salford City Council, Tameside Borough Council, and the London Borough of Hackney, along with the National Day Nurseries Association. In addition to the survey, the in-depth views of staff in 22 nurseries and preschools were sought to explore the issues emerging during the collaboration.

Overall, this expertise has informed the development of a new resource, which will now be made freely available to all nursery staff and those with an interest in this area. The free resource includes a range of practical tips and ideas on how to champion staff wellbeing, along with an activity checklist designed to enable settings to implement permanent changes and monitor their progress.

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, says: “It’s clear from this new research how much early years staff love their work, but it’s also clear that it can at times be emotionally demanding and stressful. Staff wellbeing needs to lie at the heart of nursery settings, so we can best support those who look after young children in the first years of their lives. Those early years are so critical to a child's longer term development and happiness. That’s why we are delighted today to offer this free, practical resource to all nurseries.”

This initiative identifies four key areas which could make a difference to the wellbeing of staff in nursery and preschool settings:

  1. Supporting each other: Staff value it when they find support amongst colleagues, check in and show an interest in each other, and can be honest and open about sharing difficult workplace experiences. They said it was important to recognise themselves as a team, reflecting and learning together.
  2. Supportive management: All staff, including managers, have a role to play in promoting peer support. Managers determine the extent to which staff wellbeing is a priority, supported by policies, procedures and resources. Guidance can include practical basics, like having enough breaks throughout the day.
  3. The physical environment: Having access to an environment which promotes wellbeing and provides a safe space can help staff to recover from stressful situations. They recognise the importance of openly displayed health and wellbeing information, and the option to join in with fun or social activities.
  4. Outside support: Staff value being given training opportunities and access to peer networks, as well as signposting to local services when extra wellbeing support is needed. Other outside pressures also impact on wellbeing, like the cost of living and a sense that the profession is under-valued.

Dr Rachel Lyons, Deputy Principal Educational Psychologist, Salford and Bury Educational Psychology Services, said: “We are pleased to be part of this exciting collaboration with the Anna Freud Centre and other local authorities and partners. The content of this new resource is inspired and informed by the insightful and practical feedback that we received from those in settings based on their lived experiences, and this is what makes it so valuable. We hope to see it having a real impact in early years settings, for the benefit of staff and the children they care for.”

Staff at Juice Nursery in Altrincham, Greater Manchester also worked with the Anna Freud Centre on creating the resource. Sarah Leary, Manager at Juice, said: “We believe that staff are the lifeblood of a nursery, and therefore supporting their mental health should be a key priority. It’s so important for settings to introduce policies and initiatives to enable staff to focus on their own wellbeing, whilst supporting them both professionally and personally. This resource will be incredibly useful to settings, and we hope it will inspire many new initiatives across the UK.”

Download this new, free resource which contains the survey findings, ideas for boosting staff wellbeing and an activity checklist.