In a recent webinar on how to reduce turnover at your childcare center, we were joined by Tony D’Agostino, CEO and founder of Inspire Care 360! Tony discussed how to market your childcare center to attract and retain quality staff. He dove into the fundamental challenges that lead to turnover in childcare and the direct impact that this turnover can have on your center’s ability to recruit top talent. Tony also explained the impact that toxic individuals can have on a center’s culture and overall success.
Whether your center is for-profit, not-for-profit, large, or small: labor is currently one of the greatest risks to childcare centers. When compared to reputation, programming, and regulations, center owners and directors consistently rank staffing as their top concern. A study on childcare staff attrition at UC Berkley found that more than 50% of center staff left within the first 4 years.
As anyone with experience in the childcare industry can tell you, the problem has gotten worse over time. Early studies indicated that in just one decade, the turnover rate in childcare has tripled from 15% to 41% (according to Monthly Labor Review Feb 2011).
So, how do we fix the problem of turnover in early childhood education?
Let’s look at ten of the most common causes of high turnover.
1) Lack of purpose among educators
Ensuring your educators have a sense of purpose starts with setting solid, agreeable, and achievable expectations. Does your team understand your goals and objectives? Do they understand their own and what they can do to meet them? Educators need to be connected to the success of the children and your programs. You need to ensure your staff members have a solid understanding of your vision for childcare and their place within it.
2) Poor compensation for early childhood educators
Poor early childhood educator compensation goes hand-in-hand with these other common workplace complaints:
- Feeling overworked between classroom and admin tasks
- Negative director presence
- Toxic colleagues
- Little or no recognition from colleagues or parents
- Poor work/life balance
- Boredom with classroom job duties
- No opportunity for growth due to limited center roles
If you can increase compensation even slightly while keeping the above in check, it will go a long way!
3) Educators feeling overwhelmed
Being overwhelmed at work can cause a plethora of issues for an educator, all of which can lead to them looking for new opportunities at other childcare centers.
If you think of your best team members, you will likely find that they show up on time, do what they are asked, put in their best effort, and even go above and beyond what’s required of them.
However, what often happens to strong team members is that managers overload them with tasks. Because of their dedication, they usually do not say no and then hence can be at risk of becoming overworked. On the surface, it makes sense to give more responsibilities to our top performers, but this is not a good practice long term.
4) Poor daycare managers and/or toxic employees
When it comes to managers in childcare, most have moved up the ranks from educators to become directors or owners of their own childcare centers. Whether a director is an internal or external hire, they often have limited, if no, leadership skills. This does not set them up for success as they move into this role. As a Director, always make sure you provide proper training for your staff members as they grow in their roles, and be sure to be mindful of your own professional development as well.
When it comes to toxic employees, keep an eye out for any staff member that does not align with your center’s values and vision for childcare. If poor performance is not addressed immediately, it can lead to other team members thinking it’s acceptable. It can be tough to have these difficult conversations, but they are vital for maintaining a positive workplace culture.
5) Little or no recognition for early childhood educators
Do you understand what is important to each of your team members? Recognition that is meaningless to the person receiving it can negatively impact job performance in the future.
Directors need to make it a priority to focus on what is important to each individual staff member. Try to catch staff members in the act and provide unexpected, immediate praise and recognition. Always ensure you show appreciation to your team in a meaningful way.
6) Poor work-life balance for early childhood educators
It is so important to allow your staff members to have a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout. You need an established protocol that allows for time off when needed and try to ensure that educators are not working over the agreed-upon hours. When an employee is off the clock, do not reach out to them.
7) Educator boredom
Remember, educators often spend more time at their center than they do at home. If they are not engaged in the work they are doing, then they are just burning the hours, staring at the clock and waiting to go home. This kind of boredom can quickly lead to resentment, which leads to turnover. That’s why it’s important to try to connect your educators’ passions to their individual job duties. Ensure that your team members feel a sense of security, belonging, and pride in their work. If these needs are not met, they may feel forced to look for new job opportunities.
8) Lack of opportunities for growth in early childhood education
In a childcare center, there are often limited educational/administrative roles: Assistant Teacher, Teacher, Assistant Director, and Director. There may also be cleaners, chefs, and some administrative assistants, but the lack of managerial roles can make upward mobility difficult for ECEs. We encourage managers to consider adding new positions and roles such as the ones listed below to provide further opportunities for staff members.
|Assistant Teacher||Admin in training|
|Junior Teacher||Assistant Director|
|Program Lead||Center Director|
|Program Director||Enrollment Specialist|
|Curriculum Director||Regional Director|
|Activities Director||Coordinating Director|
9) Poor hiring practices in childcare centers
When it comes to recruiting, your goal should always be to hire slowly and fire quickly. However, this is very difficult in our industry. Bad hires often happen in times of desperate need, and childcare staffing shortages make finding replacements challenging. Under pressure, directors often evaluate for experience over values when hiring, potentially leading to conflicts down the line.
Try the following recruitment tips to ensure you get the most out of new hires:
- Invest time in multiple interviews
- Have candidates tell you stories of how they handle various situations
- Observe them in the classroom over a short trial period
10) Toxic culture in childcare
Your center culture is your values coming to life. This is shown in how your team engages with one another, how they treat the children, and how you communicate with parents. Toxic workplace culture typically comes from the owner or manager leading from the top down. As a leader, you may not even know that your culture is toxic.
Avoid putting yourself first, saying things you do not mean or cannot fulfill, or turning a blind eye to workplace gossip or bullying. Always check in with your employees regularly.
“If you see actions that do reflect your company culture and values, act swiftly and precisely to repute the situation.”
Reducing turnover in childcare
In summary, it is critical to engage your staff. Get to know who each person is, their hopes, their dreams, and what motivates them to come to work every morning Try to go well beyond compensation to provide a truly fulfilling job experience.
This is not easy, but the important parts are:
- Communicating your purpose, staff’s value, your appreciation, and recognition
- Eliminating toxic team members and changing your own behaviors if needed
- Focusing on your values in recruitment, performance management, and appreciation
- Building a career ladder for your team that empowers them and shows accountability
- Do not go through the motions, take inventory of what is working and what is not
Once you have this mastered, the decrease in staff turnover and increase in positive workplace culture will be well worth it. Good luck!