If you’re feeling stressed right now, you’re certainly not alone. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association reveals that COVID-19 has profoundly impacted our mental and physical wellbeing this year. As a childcare provider, you’re likely feeling a great deal of pressure to keep everything operating as smoothly as possible, from upholding best safety practices to ensuring staff and parents feel happy and connected with your center.
These five strategies will help you proactively support your staff and manage your own mental health during undeniably stressful times.
1. Understand individual staff members’ causes of stressAlthough it’s easy to assume that everyone at your center is stressed because of COVID-19, you can never know what’s fully going on for someone else at a surface level. While a staff member could be anxious due to the pandemic, they might also be suffering a loss in their personal life or worried about something unrelated to COVID-19 altogether. The first step to helping your staff cope with stress is to avoid making assumptions and to understand the root causes at play.
One great way to make space for this is to conduct weekly check-ins with your team. If you’re not already doing so, consider meeting with your staff one-on-one every week, and practice active listening in each of those sessions. If you can model being fully present, you’ll foster an environment in which your colleagues can bring their whole and best selves to work, which will help boost morale and retention.
Here are other staff check-in tips to keep in mind:
- Allot 15-30 minutes each week for your meetings. If you have a lot more staff members than you do administrators, you can adjust the times and schedules accordingly.
- Stick to one-on-one settings. Your staff will likely feel more comfortable sharing honestly with just you rather than in a group.
- Encourage your staff to share what’s going well and what’s not. You can certainly provide helpful feedback, but remember that this time is ultimately for your staff to share their wins and concerns.
- Understand that staff check-ins will benefit your center in the long run! While weekly one-on-ones may seem like a big commitment, the time you put into developing your staff will come back to you. The more staff you’re able to retain, the less hiring you’ll need to do down the line because of turnover.
Another great way to foster understanding with your staff is to always assume best intent. Instead of jumping to conclusions about your staff members’ intentions when something goes wrong, assume that they are always working their hardest and that they want the same things you do—to educate and develop young minds. Practicing this principle will help to build a positive and collaborative work environment, which is especially vital during high-stress times.
2. Communicate consistentlyA study from the Harvard Business Review found that employees who felt their managers were poor communicators were “23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak.” Because uncertainty is one of the leading causes of stress these days, directors and administrators need to communicate clearly with their staff. Simply put, effective communication can help prevent burnout and turnover.
Make sure that your team is always updated on the factors that will influence their jobs the most, including:
- Changes in hours, schedules, and room assignments. Communicate these clearly and well in advance.
- Updates to health and safety practices, especially if you are making changes due to COVID-19 and the upcoming holiday travel season.
- Important information regarding students, such as temporary distance learning plans or shifting schedules.
Note: brightwheel administrators can use the staff messaging feature to help keep everyone on the same page and avoid miscommunications!
You can also facilitate great communication at your center by setting clear expectations for when it’s appropriate for your staff to “vent.” During stressful situations, it’s not helpful to expect staff members to bottle up their emotions. It’s also unhealthy to enable a work culture in which employees gossip frequently and spread negativity amongst their colleagues. Let your staff know that you genuinely care about their concerns, and encourage them to use their weekly check-ins to share candidly with you. Having time and space to voice their honest opinions will help your teachers bring their best selves to work.
3. Review your staff policies
A lot has probably changed at your center this year. Take a careful look at your policies—are they still helpful, appropriate, and fair in light of COVID-19? Could they potentially be improved if you acquired more funding through loans and grants?
For example, you might try revisiting your hazard pay policies. Many centers have found it helpful to give their staff a temporary pay boost, whether it’s an hourly adjustment or a one-time bonus, to compete with government unemployment benefits. Paying your employees more for a set amount of time can positively impact staff morale and retention in the long run.
You could also reconsider your current sick leave policies. To ease stress during the pandemic, some providers have increased the amount of time their employees can take off, especially if they or someone in their family becomes sick with COVID-19. You might try adding a few days or a couple of weeks to your current policy, whether paid or unpaid. Finally, examine your health benefits and consider whether it would be feasible to make additional investments in medical benefits in order to support and retain your staff.
The new year is a great time to make updates to existing policies, especially if you’ve received any feedback that pay, job security due to illness, and medical care are top-of-mind for your staff!
4. Prioritize your own physical and mental health
Although feeling stress from time to time is inevitable, it’s important to manage your anxiety so it doesn’t spill out and affect those around you. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your staff and students is to take good care of yourself. If you don’t already, carve out space in your regular schedule for screen-free activities that help you unwind and re-center.
The UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services recommends these best practices for reducing anxiety during COVID-19:
- Limit your media consumption and keep “doomscrolling” to a minimum. Establish times when you turn your phone off or leave it in a different room so you can focus on an activity you enjoy or spend time with the people you live with.
- Set aside time to connect virtually with people who build you up. Create space for encouraging conversations that don’t happen over text or social media—seeing a loved one’s smile or hearing a dear friend’s laugh can do wonders for your mental health!
- Focus on what you can control. While you can’t change what’s happening in the news or what other people are thinking, you can take agency over your own self-care.
- Take care of yourself physically (just like you take care of your students!). Keep a consistent bedtime, eat plenty of vegetables and healthy foods, and get some exercise and sunlight.
5. Set healthy boundaries so you can fully recharge
It’s unrealistic to be available for the needs of your childcare business at all times. Remember to set healthy boundaries so you have adequate space to rest and refuel. For instance, you can keep your phones off or on “Do Not Disturb” at night, and make sure your colleagues and families know you won’t be responding to them during late hours. Likewise, you should also clearly communicate to staff when they should and shouldn’t respond to work-related messages. If you model good boundaries, your staff will learn that they can also maintain good boundaries for themselves, which will ultimately help to build a healthy, sustainable work culture for your team.
Note: With brightwheel, you can use the messaging tool to keep all communications with families within the app—another easy way to establish healthy boundaries for yourself and your staff!
We know you’ve been working extremely hard this year to address the needs of both your staff and families. So take a deep breath and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. You’re doing an incredible job!
To learn more about how to operate your center with less stress, download our free eBook, 4 Keys to Building a More Resilient Early Education Center During COVID-19!
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.