A Lesson for Early Childhood Education Leaders: Don’t Forget Employee Engagement!

What is the main reason child care employees are dissatisfied? If you think it is wages, you might want to think again….

Every year, the team at HiMama releases our Child Care Benchmark Report that surveys leaders in early childhood education to measure performance and outlook relative to their peer group. In the 2017 survey, we asked participants to rank the top risks for their organization. Respondents indicated, overwhelmingly, that ‘Labor’ was their number one risk for continued success in the following year

We were not surprised to see that recruiting continues to be a struggle for child care centers, regardless of size, geography or profit status. Difficulty attracting and retaining top talent in child care is a continuing theme from previous years, and one we hear echoed by our own customers often. Turnover in child care and early childhood education is very high relative to other industries. According to a 2012 report by Child Care Aware of America, the yearly turnover is between 25 to 40%.

One factor affecting high turnover and recruiting difficulties is low wages. The mean annual wage for child care workers in 2016 reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was $22,930 USD. Many child care employees, despite passion for the industry, will leave the sector in search of higher paying work.

Following the benchmark report findings, we decided to dive a bit deeper to determine if there are other factors outside of wages that make recruitment and retention such a struggle. We found that there is a lot more to employee dissatisfaction in child care than simply financial insecurity.

First, let’s take a look at what makes people happy in their jobs generally. Fortune Magazine, as part of their work behind the list of the Best Companies To Work For, identified five science-backed attributes that make people happy at their jobs:

  1. Work that is challenging
  2. A sense of progress
  3. No fear of job loss
  4. Autonomy over work
  5. Belonging

These five attributes generally resonate with employees and have a sizable impact on whether one is happy or unhappy in their current role. At a high level, people want to work in an environment where they are given the opportunity to make a positive impact, forge genuine connections with coworkers, and have some sense of stability.

Now let’s look at child care and early childhood education more specifically. For our research we used Glassdoor, a website where employers have profiles with job listings, reviews, and interview advice. Employees can rate their overall experience working for employers on a scale of 1 (dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), with 3 being ‘neutral’. To see how child care worker satisfaction compares with other sectors, we looked at 13 prominent child care brands in contrast to average company ratings. Comparatively, child care companies rank significantly lower than the average company on Glassdoor, with a majority of child care employees reporting that their overall experience working at a child care company is less than ‘neutral’.

  • The average company rating on Glassdoor is 3.3
  • The average child care company rating on Glassdoor is 2.8

Only 4 of the 13 organizations included in our analysis had a rating greater than 3, the ‘neutral’ threshold.
Why do child care companies have a lower rating from employees than the average company on Glassdoor? A deeper analysis of the content of employee reviews over the last year sheds some light on this question. For the companies referenced above we analyzed whether employees had generally positive (pro) or negative (con) sentiments with respect to their employer across the 6 categories below:

  • Leadership & Culture – Management support and the workplace environment
  • Wages – Base salary and other monetary compensation
  • Benefits – Vacation, sick leave, schedule flexibility
  • Professional Development – Training and opportunities for career advancement
  • Hours – Scheduling expectations and actual working hours
  • Children & Families – Experiences working with children and families

As it turns out, there is certainly more to employee dissatisfaction in child care than just wages!

#1 Pro – Children & Families:

41% of employee mentioned that they enjoyed working with parents to help raise their children during their formative years of development. The strength of this sentiment speaks to why early childhood education employees took up this work in the first place; they have an interest in and passion for the work that they do.

#1 Con – Leadership & Culture:

47% of employee expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership and culture at their organization. While wages were still a significant area of dissatisfaction, they were referenced significantly less than issues with management styles, lack of transparency and constructive feedback, toxic employee relationships and other elements of workplace culture and leadership. Many employees felt like management wasn’t addressing their needs that were completely separate from financial motivations.

For early childhood leaders there is a positive side to these findings. As leadership and culture are 100% under the control of management, areas that are currently lacking can be improved over time with focused and proactive efforts. The other silver lining is that leadership and culture are not directly associated to increased spending, like wages, benefits and professional development. There are tangible improvements leadership can make to ensure employees feel valued, respected and engaged without increasing spending.

How do you keep your employees engaged and happy at your child care center? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, make sure to download our Child Care Benchmark Report for more insight into the current state of the child care sector.

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