Recruitment and retention in the nursery sector in the post-COVID world

nursery sector
Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

Gill McAteer, head of employment law at Citation, details the necessary changes needed to improve recruitment and retention in the nursery sector to fit the ‘new normal’

Although the critical importance of nursery provision in keeping the UK’s economy on track has been highlighted during the pandemic crisis, many providers have suffered a significant financial impact, particularly given restrictions in the extent to which most of them can access the furlough scheme.

Recruitment and retention have been major issues for the sector in recent years and with even tighter financial constraints, many providers will be wondering what they can do to attract and retain the right people when there is little room to manoeuvre when it comes to pay. However, a focus on employee wellbeing will give employers an edge when it comes to recruitment and retention.

For most employers, one of the greatest challenges they face in 2021 will be managing employees’ mental health issues. This is not something new – the Health and Safety Executive reported that last year 828,000 workers were estimated to be suffering work-related stress, depression, and anxiety and this accounted for 17.9 million working days lost.

There is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic will have compounded the problem significantly. In the summer, the Office of National Statistics found that almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic, double the figure from the period July 2019 to March 2020. Women aged 16-39 who were unable to afford an unexpected expense or were disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression.

The nursery sector faces particular challenges with many employees concerned about contracting the virus. Like the rest of society, they will also be feeling the strain of many months of living under restrictions outside of work. Childcare work can be demanding at the best of times but particularly so when your mental health is fragile.

Employees suffering from poor mental health can lead to increased sickness absence, high turnover of staff, low employee engagement, poor performance and even potentially claims where they feel their employer has not provided sufficient support. On the other hand, employers who focus on employee wellbeing can find not only improvements in these areas but Ofsted’s Early Years inspection handbook includes ‘Staff consistently report high levels of support for well-being issues’ as an Outstanding grade leadership and management descriptor.

So how can you improve your approach to employee wellbeing? One of the most effective ways to start is to move away from a reactive approach to a more proactive focus in supporting your team with these issues.

  • Train managers to identify the signs that an employee may be struggling with their mental health and how to handle these difficult conversations

  • Carry out return to work interviews when employees have been off sick. An opportunity to discuss their absence in a one to one may reveal underlying issues.

  • Don’t forget that managers also need support with their mental health.

  • Proactively encourage employees to talk about any issues they may be experiencing. Unfortunately, many people still feel that there is a stigma attached to mental health and worry about how they will be viewed if they admit they are struggling. Making it clear that it is perfectly normal to have these feelings is a great starting point. Studies have shown that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives (and of course this did not factor in the effects of the pandemic).

  • Actively promote self-care to employees – the importance of eating well, drinking sensibly, keeping active and taking a break are important for all of us.

  • Provide information on resources which are available if they need it. Many employees may feel uncomfortable discussing this with a manager but have no idea where to turn to get support. Websites such as the NHS Every Mind Matters can be a useful starting point – For employers, MIND offers useful tips in their ‘‘How to take stock of mental health in your workplace’ guide.

While the focus on employee wellbeing is important, it is also important that owners and managers do not neglect their own self-care. They will not be immune to the pressures of working under extreme pressure for many months and the first step in looking after your employees’ wellbeing, will be to look after your own.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here