Stress and relaxation in early childhood education and care: Experiences of relaxation - The voices of early childhood education and care educators

Year: 2019

Author: Houen, Sandy, Cooke, Emma, Kraemer, Elain, Oakes, Candice, Thorpe, Karen, Staton, Sally

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research investigating the ECEC workforce highlights the intense physical and emotional work of ECEC educators. Educators experience high levels of stress that can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and a reduction in program quality. Relaxation may help to alleviate stress and promote educator wellbeing through distraction and recovery. Yet, little is known about educators’ experiences of relaxation.

The importance of educator wellbeing is three-fold. First, wellbeing influences the quality of life for educators themselves. Second, educator wellbeing affects retention, engagement, and stability in the ECEC workforce, and finally, wellbeing affects the ECEC program quality. Therefore, educator wellbeing is essential to the individual, to children and families, and society as a whole.

We aim to describe how educators conceptualise and experience relaxation. These descriptions and experiences can inform workplace strategies to support educators’ relaxation, and to recognise that relaxation is not solely an individual’s problem. Consideration of the social contexts that educators experience is also important when supporting their relaxation.

This study was funded by the QLD Department of Education: Education Horizon Grant scheme to investigate educators’ experiences of relaxation. Their perspectives and experiences of relaxation were gained through interviews (n=8) and a ‘y’ chart activity (n= 33) completed during a professional development workshop. The ‘y’ chart activity required educators to write down what their personal experiences of relaxation looked like, sounded like, and felt like. To explore educators’ perspectives and experiences, we applied inductive content analysis.

Findings reveal that educators mostly conceptualise their relaxation as an outside of work experience where they ‘switch off’ from work and family demands. Additionally, our results identify the barriers to educators’ relaxation, and when they do experience relaxation, educators’ experiences of and preferences for relaxation are diverse.

The implications of our study locate within work contexts as an opportunity to support educators’ relaxation. The context in which educators are employed restrict educators’ ability to relax at work, for example, staff-child ratios. Workplace and societal strategies to support educators’ relaxation must consider educators unique work contexts to find ways to respond to individual educators’ preferences for relaxation. Future research on workplace strategies and initiatives that support educators’ rest and recuperation is recommended.