By Lindsey Appleby-Flynn, Connect2Care’s mental health lead

As the world enters another uncertain week due to COVID-19, the mental health spotlight shifts to raise awareness of wellbeing amongst early year’s practitioners.

The 5-11th of October marks Early Years Wellbeing Week. The week focuses on preventing early years employees from suffering from the ill effects of mental health issues. Taking a proactive approach to prevention, as opposed to a reactive approach, has been proven to be more beneficial to employers and their employees in various recent studies.

Mental health issues among early years employees

Young female staff are prominent in the 280,000 strong early years workforce. In England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. This means many of our early years colleagues are more likely to succumb to the pressures of the job.

A new study published by the Social Mobility Commission has revealed that the average wage for early years’ workers is only £7.42 an hour, with as many as one in eight being paid under £5.00 an hour.

As anyone that has worked in the early years sector will know, it is a stressful, yet rewarding job. The research, which was carried out for the commission by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), also found that staff turnover was high, at 15%, mainly due to low pay, a lack of training and career structure and excessive overtime. These low wages accompanied by the high pressure of the job role put early years employees at a higher risk of burnout and anxiety, which can also result in tiredness, presenteesim, trouble focusing and irritability.

This adds to the strains induced by the cost of living and many workers are forced to take on excessive overtime hours which can create an imbalance in regards to a person’s work/life balance.

Impact of COVID-19 on mental health

COVID-19 has hit employees in the early years sector hard. With dwindling occupancy rates in many early years settings, putting them at an all-time low, it’s unsurprising that employees are feeling apprehensive about their job security.

Dr Sara Bonetti, Director of Early Years at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), commented: “This research highlights the multiple barriers that early years workers face on a daily basis, with low pay, lack of career options and negative perceptions of their profession holding them back. The pandemic now threatens to exacerbate many of these problems.

“We must do far more to support workers, otherwise we risk compromising the quality of provision and widening the disadvantaged gap.”

Building resilience

To work in the early years sector you have to be a certain kind of person. Patience, reliability, excellent communication, flexibility, a sense of humour, empathy and resilience are all must-have traits in a role that is extremely gratifying, but often testing.

It’s important that employees build resilience and are aware of the possibility of professional burnout. In order to help the children in our care, we must first help ourselves. The caregiver who never relaxes or doesn’t develop any outside interests is more likely to suffer burnout than someone who finds his or her own time and space.

To reduce the risk of anxiety and burnout, it’s never been more important to promote a healthy work/life balance within the sector. Managing this can often be challenging, but being mindful is easier than you may think:

  • Give yourself time to reflect on the day’s work activities and consider the positives that you have brought to the table.
  • Be proud of the work that you have achieved.
  • Acknowledge the difficult things and let them go.
  • Are you OK? Are your colleagues OK? Talking about your stresses and anxieties can really help to alleviate them so give your colleagues a call and see how they are doing.

All of the above will help to promote a positive work environment and aid a proactive approach to mental health. By supporting the wellbeing of your employees, you’ll help reduce the stigma of mental health issues by breaking down barriers in understanding.

Having an ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ stance on mental health promotes an open environment. Your employees won’t be ashamed or scared to discuss the problems they may be experiencing, improving their workplace satisfaction.

Being hands-on as a company needs to come from the top and work down through your organisation. It’s imperative that all your staff have the core belief that prevention is better than cure when it comes to mental health.

Equipping yourself and your team for the future

Taking steps to incorporate this may be small at first, but every little helps! The more time and effort that you invest in mental health awareness, the more you get out. A report by Deloitte has found that poor mental health costs employers 45 billion pounds every single year.

On a more positive note, the same report found that for every £1 a company spends on mental health intervention, £5 is saved through increased productivity, reduced staff absence and overall improved morale.

At Connect2Care, we offer First Aid for Mental Health courses to better equip you or your employees to support others in their time of need. As part of these courses, attendees will learn how to support and signpost a colleague, friend or themselves to appropriate help if they’re having difficulties with their mental health.

All our trainers have real-world experience of working in the mental health industry, providing an engaging overview of the topic.

To promote greater mental health inclusivity as part of Early Years Wellbeing Week, we’re offering a limited offer to receive 20% off the cost of our Level 3 Award in Supervising First Aid for Mental Health! Simply enter the code ‘FAFMH20C2C’ at the Eventbrite checkout.

In addition, we understand that in the early years business, workloads can often seem more demanding or complex every day, and because many of us now work in unpredictable environments, anxiety and burnout are not uncommon. In our high-pressure workplaces, remaining productive and engaged can be challenging.

At Connect2Care, we’ve developed a course on ‘How to Manage Anxiety and Burnout’ for just £25, which helps build resilience skills and coping strategies. It also provides advice and guidance on signs, symptoms, signposting, and intervention to enable an effective, resilient workforce.

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