30th August 2019 All Posts Guest Blog

Staff Wellbeing in Practice

Guest Blog from David Wright, Paint Pots Nurseries

Many employers use the phrase ‘our people are our most precious resource’ or something very similar to this. It is a phrase that is easy to promote as a corporate slogan but the proof of commitment to this statement must be evidenced by action. If we value our team, how do we show it?  

The new Education Inspection Framework from September 2019, makes explicit reference to staff welfare in several sections of the Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook.

Inspectors characterise ‘Outstanding’ settings as those where –  

  • Staff consistently report high levels of support for well-being issues.
  • Leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that any issues are identified. When issues are identified – in particular about workload – they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.

And in ‘Good’ settings – 

  • Leaders engage with their staff and are aware of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload.
  • Leaders have effective systems in place for the supervision and support of staff.
  • Leaders protect staff from harassment, bullying and discrimination.
  • Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and avoid unnecessary burdens for staff or children.
  • Relationships among children, parents and staff reflect a positive and respectful culture.

Clearly, Ofsted are concerned for the well-being of Early Years staff and in particular, issues relating to workload, relationships, discrimination and bullying. 

The Early Years Alliance published its Minds Matter survey in June 2018.

Some of the results were salutary, detailing evidence of perceived stress, reported mental health issues and poor work-life balance amongst our colleagues. 

We cannot dismiss these statistics or mentally justify the imposition of long hours and unreasonable workload on our teams on the grounds of budgetary constraint, the lack of qualified staff or other excuses.  It is simply not good enough to ignore this issue. Firstly there is a clear moral imperative to act. As organisation leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure the well-being of those who work with us. I hope that no one would take issue with the Ofsted criteria above. Shouldn’t we all be ensuring we operate in a positive and respectful culture; that we avoid unnecessary burdens for staff; that we have effective support systems in place and that these are focused on well-being? Secondly, Ofsted will rightly be asking for evidence of the organisation’s actions to support teams and lastly, failure to provide appropriate support could lead to action under employment law should it be deemed that there is evidence of unchecked bullying, harassment or failure to support or respond to stress or mental health issues.    

At Paint Pots, we have taken the opportunity to ask our teams what their perceived issues are right now, how we are doing as an organisation and how we might better support them going forward. In general, we have been encouraged by the results but it is evident that there are areas where we need to take action. We have decided to sign up to the Time to Change pledge as a framework to help us improve. The pledge is a commitment to changing the way we think and act about mental health in the workplace.  

We conducted a survey across the whole of our team – all 160 employees, including managers, practitioners, cooks, cleaners, admin and maintenance staff. This will be repeated at the end of our Time to Change pledge activities (see below) to measure improvements in staff well-being. 

At the same time, we put out a call for volunteers to take on the role of well-being champion for each of our settings. We created a job description for these well-being champions.    

With the help of our well-being champions, we analysed the results of our anonymous survey to determine areas for action, any immediate solutions we could put in place and to develop a new well-being policy. 

Together we agreed on a project plan, including our response to the Time to Change pledge. 

Activities carried out or planned so far include  –

  • Senior Management Team sign-off / commitment to Time to Change
  • Senior Manager attendance at well-being for managers course.
  • Review existing policies and add additional policies relating to wellbeing and mental health.
  • Review of return to work procedure following mental health illness.
  • Signposting information available to all employees of services to support mental health and well-being in the local area and online. 
  • Adapting supervisions and appraisals to encourage employees to openly talk about their well-being.
  • Review / remind staff awareness of reporting lines and confidentiality.  
  • Introduction of WAP (wellness action plans) which will take place before appraisals, to be offered to all employees. 
  • Schedule monthly meetings with well-being champions for the initial stages of the pledge.
  • Singing the pledge on World Mental Health Day (October 10th) with a celebration at each Paint Pots and with press coverage to encourage other local employers to join us.
  • Well-being champions to run events in their settings.
  • Stress awareness to be included as part of our mandatory training programme. 
  • At induction, employees to be introduced to the well-being champion read through policies and shown where signposting information is available. 
  • Employees to share coping strategies, stress awareness and relaxation techniques at staff meetings.
  • Encourage normalisation of discussions on well-being matters.
  • Case studies to be shared (anonymously and with permission) with the wider team.  
  • Further training for managers – return to work meetings following illness, guidance following a disclosure.
  • Team newsletters and website area to have new well-being sections.

It is our intention to ensure that our motto of ‘Love, Laughter and Learning’ applies equally to our team members as it does to our children, with Love and Laughter occupying the 2 lowest and largest segments of our pyramid – 

A close up of text on a white background

Description automatically generated

We are excited to see how our well-being journey continues together. We plan to access resources on Mindfulness and relaxation techniques but mostly, we hope we can continue to foster a culture of trust, respect and openness where we support one another and encourage sharing in a culture where everyone feels safe to do so and where they know who to turn to. Everyone needs to know that they matter for who they are, that their well-being is a priority and that Paint Pots is doing all it can to support them. We believe that if the adults involved with Paint Pots experience Love and Laughter on a daily basis, there is more chance of our children doing so!   

Share this article
About the Author

David Wright, co-owner of Paint Pots Nurseries in Southampton, has been appointed England's national representative for the World Forum Foundation on Early Care and Education. Mr Wright is a qualified early years teacher who co-founded Paint Pots Nurseries with his wife, Anna, in 1993. An active campaigner for Men in Childcare, he currently serves as an adviser to the Government on gender diversity in the workforce and to the National Association of Head Teachers on early years practice.