The important art of staff retention

Published on Tuesday, 02 July 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Earlier this year, Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand released figures suggesting NZ is short of around 300 qualified early childhood teachers each year, based solely on people leaving the profession. 2017 Ministry of Education numbers show there are approximately 30,000 early childhood teachers in New Zealand, approximately 20,500 of whom are registered.

Te Rito Maioha estimates the early childhood sector suffers from an annual attrition rate of around 4 per cent, which using Department of Education numbers, equates to around 1200 early childhood teachers leaving the profession each year, approximately 800 of them are qualified.

Staff attrition is a significant and ongoing problem for many centre managers and makes day-to-day operation challenging, so this week we look at tried and tested retention strategies that may work in your service.

Research is increasingly showing that employees consider more than just money when deciding to stay in a job, and savvy employers need to be tuned in to their workforce to truly understand and appreciate what motivates their staff.

The key to attracting and retaining good staff is to introduce a range of strategies designed to foster a sense of self-worth and success in employees. It's worth doing all you can, in this high-turnover sector, to hold onto high quality staff, avoid costs of recruitment, and build good team morale.

The following strategies will create a positive culture in your workplace and more importantly, encourage your number one asset - your staff - to stick around:

Conduct an induction

A candidate who impresses you during a recruitment round is also likely to have impressed another employer. If your organisation is lucky enough to secure their services then make sure you create a great first impression by conducting a thorough and well-delivered induction.

Take the time to introduce new staff members to their colleagues, show them the premises and where they can leave their belongings. If necessary ensure any IT infrastructure is in place and make sure you have all the paperwork ready to ensure they receive their pay on time.

Take some time on the first day to sit down with your new recruit to discuss the strategic goals of the organisation and how they fit into the organisational structure.

Many new recruits leave within the first days or weeks of taking up a new position. Creating a positive first impression will help you reduce the chance of this happening.

Performance management

This is simply the practice of introducing a range of goals and objectives for your staff and monitoring and measuring their performance against those goals on a regular basis.

Developing and introducing a performance management system for employees can reduce poor performance and gives employees a reason to maintain or even improve their good performance. It can also foster better lines of communication and boost the likelihood of important bottom up feedback.

A performance management plan sets out targets or key indicators for employees and explains how performance will be measured against those targets.

To be truly effective, a performance management plan should:

  • Be aligned with the strategic and business goals of the organisation
  • Describe the agreed performance management process
  • Describe the agreed performance targets
  • Enable you to objectively measure an employee's performance against those targets
  • Provide real benefits for both the employee and the employer
  • Allow for regular meetings and a two-way flow of communication

A carefully designed and consistently applied performance management plan will help to hold on to staff members by ensuring they clearly understand what is expected of them. It will also give you, the manager, a document you can use to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of an employee's performance and a tool for discussing the potential for pay increases and/or promotion.

Performance management systems may also promote feelings of job satisfaction and loyalty towards an employer and may boost productivity by creating an environment where employees feel as though their work is recognised and valued.

For under performers it can be a helpful way of identifying areas of weakness early and implementing a plan to address those areas before the problem gets too big to do anything about.

Providing employees with an opportunity to explain themselves and involving them in an action plan to address the problem areas can also be a very productive exercise.

Career planning

Developing and introducing career planning strategies in your workplace is a great way of holding onto staff as it sends a strong message that you support their professional development and promotion within the organisation.

Taking the time to devise a realistic and achievable career plan for your staff members will give them a clear goal to work toward, encourage them to stay, especially if there is a possibility of additional training, and will significantly boost job satisfaction.

Conducting a career planning session with team members will ensure your staff members understand:

  • What they need to achieve in terms of training, further education, and on the job experience to be promoted within the organisation.
  • What type of work they are best suited towards and what their current and future career interests are.
  • The quickest and most effective way of reaching their career objectives.

Many employees make career decisions quickly without thinking too much about the future and encouraging discussion about the opportunities will improve focus, determination and drive.

It will also ensure you hold onto key staff members by helping keep them professionally satisfied, stimulated, and working towards mutual goals which ultimately assist the organisation as much as the individual employee.

It might be helpful to conduct career planning sessions at the same time as performance management meetings so employees gain a clear picture of how their current performance affects their future opportunities.

Flexible work practices

Flexible workplaces allow employers and employees to work out terms and conditions of employment which serve both the operating needs of the business and the personal commitments of the employee.

Due to the nature of early childhood education and care, work is very much location based and flexible work practices in this sector usually revolve around the hours of work, including possibilities for part time work, job share and varying start and finish times.

The many benefits of introducing flexible work practices include:

  • It will give your organisation a competitive edge during the recruitment process for candidates seeking a better work/life balance.
  • It will improve communication and trust in the workplace by allowing employees to meet their other commitments. This should also reduce sick days and absenteeism.
  • It can foster a sense of loyalty and will encourage teams to work together to work out rosters which suit everyone's time constraints.
  • It can help managers plan and staff for peaks and troughs in workload.
  • It is an extremely cost effective way of boosting team morale and productivity.
  • Encourages managers to look for creative ways to work.

Introducing flexible work practices in an organisation requires managers to spend time with staff discussing alternative working arrangements. The process will be easier if managers are willing to 'think outside the box' to develop and introduce strategies which keep most people if not everyone happy.

A small amount of time spent brainstorming with staff to identify shared goals and objectives will pay enormous dividends for managers leading happy, productive and focused teams.

Introducing some of the simple, cost effective methods described above should help you keep hold of your people in this current, extremely competitive recruitment market.

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