Stress and Relaxation in Early Childhood Education and Care: Low pay, low status and high demand: Australia’s ECEC workforce under stress.

Year: 2019

Author: Thorpe, Karen, Jansen, Elena, McDonald, Paula, Sullivan, Victoria

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The quality of early experiences for children, families and the economy in ECEC has been a key policy goal of the Australian government across the last decade. Professionalisation of theworkforce, including increasing credentials and accountability, has been a central strategy. These demands have not been met with commensurate improvement in pay and conditions. Staff turnover in the Australian ECEC is high at 30-50% per annum depending on geographical location. For those who stay conditions of work are stressful. This paper focuses on the stressors and factors that support educators to function well and remain in the sector.

Educators work environments are children’s learning environments. Emerging international evidence identifies staff well-being as associated with the quality of educator-child interactions and child outcomes. Educator turnover is often a personal loss for those who ‘love’ their work, represents a loss of skill and experience in the workforce and is a disruption to attachment relationships with children that affects child well-being and leanings. Understanding factors that can support educator well-being is important.

Identification of factors that support the retention and well-being of educators in the ECEC workforce in a time of high demand and low recognition.

This study was funded by an ARC Linkage scheme and adopted a mixed method approach. A survey of 1200 educators was analysed to identify factors that moderate the relationship between demographic and work factors and intention to leave. Three composite moderators (1) Work conditions (pay flexibility, hours worked, stability of tenure) (2) Work type (complexity of the community served, profit vs not profit, organisational supports and demands) and (3) Workplace (leadership, collegial supports, management) were examined. Detailed interviews with 98 educators form a representation of centres in remote, regional and urban sites were undertaken to provide rich data on factors affecting workplace well-being and intention to stay.

The ethos within the workplace was a significant moderator of staff well-being and intention to leave or stay. Interview data revealed that single women experienced financial stress and young educators were unable to live independently. Financial supports, such as reduced childcare costs for educators’ children, aided retention. Additionally, a positive workplace that supported career development and minimisation of ‘paperwork’ sustained staff well-being and engagement.

Pay and work conditions are central to a long-term solution in supporting the growth and well-being of the ECEC workforce. In the short-term, the role of leadership in building a positive and supportive workplace is critical.