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Find your tribe! Early childhood educators defining and identifying key factors that support their workplace wellbeing.

Introduction

The Australian Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector includes preschool, long day-care (LDC), occasional care, family daycare and out of school hours care centres. The growth of the ECEC sector in Australia and the increasing need for qualified staff has added further pressure to a sector already grappling with issues of retention and turnover. There is considerable evidence that the sector is experiencing difficulties in attracting and retaining educators, particularly teachers with university qualifications in before-school settings (Bremerton, 2010; Irvine, Thorpe, McDonald, Lunn, & Sumsion, 2016). Shortages of early childhood (EC) teachers are most prevalent in LDC settings in the state of New South Wales (NSW), and even more so in regional and remote areas (Productivity Commission (PC), 2014). The current study is based on LDC centres in NSW.

Key contributors to high turnover and poor retention rates in the ECEC sector include educator stress, emotional exhaustion and burnout, a low professional status within the community, poor pay and working conditions, limited professional autonomy (Bretherton, 2010; Irvine et al., 2016; Jovanovic, 2013; Press, Wong & Gibson, 2015) and poor relationships with other educators (McKinlay, Irvine, & Farell, 2018). It is important to conduct research that can reduce turnover, as there is consensus within the research community of the necessity for stable employment for educators within ECEC centres to enable the provision of high-quality programmes (Press et al., 2015). The aim of this doctoral study is to elicit the views and experiences of EC educators working in LDC centres to define workplace wellbeing and identify individual, relational and contextual factors affecting educator workplace wellbeing.

The paper begins by exploring what is known about EC educator workplace wellbeing in light of national and international literature on wellbeing, stress and burnout. Notions of wellbeing emerging from the literature are explained, followed by a discussion of factors that emerged from the study that support or thwart educator wellbeing. In concluding, the findings of the study are used to consider implications for leaders at a centre level to improve educator workplace wellbeing.

Review of related literature

Defining wellbeing

There is no consensus or a single definition of the concept of 'wellbeing' (Garvis & Pendergast, 2014) and when reviewing the literature, several articles used the term 'wellbeing' without offering a definition (Erdiller & Dogan, 2015; Faulkner, Gerstenblatt, Lee, Vallejo, & Travis, 2016). This is problematical as 'well-being' can be defined broadly to encompass overall quality of life or may focus on a particular dimension of wellbeing (e.g. psychological) or be domain specific, such as the workplace. Other terms used in the literature reviewed included job-related wellbeing (Hur, Jeon, & Buettner, 2016), psychological health, personal wellbeing (Erdiller & Dogan, 2015; Ylitapio-Mantyla, Uusiautti, & Maatta, 2012), emotional wellbeing, and mental health and wellbeing (Corr et al., 2014). To add further confusion, 'wellbeing' can have a different focus between and even within disciplines. For example, several researchers within positive psychology define wellbeing as either hedonic or eudaemonic. Hedonic wellbeing is characterised by feelings of pleasure such as happiness, infrequent negative feelings and a general sense that life is satisfying (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Diener, 1984) and, thus, is focused on the attainment of pleasure. In contrast to hedonic wellbeing, eudaemonic wellbeing is concerned with the content of a person's life and captures the concept of actualisation (the need to move towards one's full potential), which humanist psychologists believe is inherent to human psychological growth (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Hall-Kenyon, Bullough, MacKay, and Marshall (2014) in their meta-analysis of preschool teacher wellbeing concluded that the majority of recent research has focused on the hedonistic tradition. Because eudaemonic wellbeing focuses on self-actualisation and doing something meaningful and worthwhile in life, this type of wellbeing is worthy of exploration when examining workplace wellbeing in the ECEC sector. Moreover, both the metaanalysis by Hall-Kenyon and colleagues and the more recent literature review of 30 articles on EC educator wellbeing (2011-2015) by Cumming (2016) identify the need for a more holistic definition of educator workplace well-being due to the complexity of educator work.

Stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion

Extant literature on educator wellbeing highlights a focus on the consequences of poor wellbeing with studies examining stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion dominating the research within the sector (Corr, Davis, LaMontagne, Waters, & Steele, 2014; Cumming, 2016; Hall-Kenyon et al., 2014). Working in an ECEC centre can be stressful and emotionally exhausting (Irvine et al., 2016; Jovanovic, 2013). Stress can refer to a person's physiological responses or perceived stress (Nilsin et al., 2016). Data from the National ECEC Workforce Census revealed that 52.2% of educators rated their job as stressful, with a higher rate (58.6%) reported by those employed in LDC centres (Social Research Centre, 2014). Comparatively, the Australian Stress and Wellbeing Survey (2015) found approximately 30% of Australians said their job was stressful. These statistics present a concern regarding the state of EC educator wellbeing in itself, as well as the potential flow-on effects on turnover and retention in the sector.

In the ECEC sector, to the authors' knowledge, only one study has measured physiological stress of educators. Nislin and colleagues (2016) investigated both perceived stress (psychological stress) levels and biomarkers of stress (physiological stress). Results from participant self-reports found high burnout levels were very low (1.4%) although 35% of respondents reported moderate exhaustion scores. Biomarker testing results noted Cortisol levels were slightly higher on workdays than weekends; however, no significant differences were found between the physiological measures and psychological measures of work stress and wellbeing. Nislin et al. posit that only the more extreme levels of stress will show up on the biomarkers and suggest the level of physiological stress in EC educators is generally not high enough to show up on these tests.

A systematic review of EC educator mental health research from 1980-2012 by Corr and associates (2014) consistently revealed workplace factors such as high workloads, working with limited budgets, high noise, challenging child behaviours, unreasonable parent expectations, lack of appreciation from parents and unsupportive directors and colleagues all impact on educator stress. Ongoing stress can lead to burnout, defined by Manlove (1993) as 'the outgrowth of chronic, ongoing stress and low job satisfaction on the part of those working in emotionally strenuous settings' (p. 500).

Burnout is common within professions that have high levels of people contact, such as teaching, nursing, welfare and allied health professions (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Burnout syndrome has three key dimensions: (a) overwhelming exhaustion; (b) cynicism and detachment from the job; and (c) a lack of personal accomplishment and reduced job satisfaction (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Various studies have found the nature of relationships between colleagues in an ECEC setting can either act as a buffer or a contributor to burnout (Lovgren, 2016; Rentzou, 2012). Working conditions can also alleviate or exacerbate symptoms of burnout. For example, a lack of time to complete job expectations and limited opportunities to collaborate with colleagues can contribute to burnout (Jovanovic, 2013) whereas supportive conditions that increase opportunities for collaboration act as a buffer (Cumming, 2015).

Individual demographic factors including age, job tenure, years of experience, marital status and whether an educator has children may also impact on EC educator wellbeing. However, findings in the literature are inconsistent, for example, one study found older teachers and married teachers had higher levels of stress (Erdiller & Dogan, 2015) whereas another found married teachers were less stressed and found no correlation between age and stress levels (Wagner et al., 2012).

Current gaps in the research

The majority of studies examining workplace wellbeing are quantitative and the scales used to measure aspects of wellbeing are many and varied (Corr et al., 2014; Hall-Kenyon et al., 2014). Quantitative analyses can create generalisations about EC educator wellbeing, but also make it difficult to obtain an in-depth understanding of the complexity of EC educator wellbeing. Moreover, the difficulty of comparing findings due to a proliferation of a variety of scales for measuring wellbeing, when combined with the dearth of qualitative research, has resulted in an area of research that is fragmented and limited (Cummings, 2016; Hall-Kenyon et al., 2014).

Both Hall-Kenyon and associates (2014) and Cumming (2016) concluded that research was needed to understand the broader concept of educator wellbeing rather than focusing on individual facets of wellbeing. They also expressed the importance of developing a clearer understanding of the interconnectedness between factors contributing to EC educator wellbeing, for example looking at pay and working conditions, the degree of autonomy afforded to an educator and centre relationships, and focusing on how each affects the other and why.

In summary, the majority of the research on EC educator wellbeing has focused on negative outcomes of poor wellbeing: stress and burnout. Common factors influencing workplace stress and burnout include work overload, role ambiguity, poor pay and working conditions and the low professional status of EC educators. However, the complexity of educator workplace wellbeing is not well conceptualised or understood. Although the research has predominantly focused on the negative side of wellbeing, a few studies have drawn from positive psychology theories (Hur et al., 2016; Nislin et al, 2015; Ylitapio-Mantyla et al., 2012), including self-determination theory (SDT).

Theoretical framework

SDT is 'an organismic perspective, approaching psychological growth, integrity, and wellness as a life science' (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 4). SDT identifies that both social factors and psychological aspects are vital for optimal wellbeing and that human beings need to experience three basic psychological needs to have healthy functioning. These are: 1) autonomy (feelings and opportunities for choice, decision-making and interest); 2) relatedness (feelings of connectedness, belonging and unity to others); and 3) competence (feeling effective in one's environment, such as high self-esteem, confidence and being challenged) (Ryan & Deci, 1985; 2000). Importantly, researchers using SDT identify the presence of an 'autonomy-supportive workplace' (which supports employees to meet the three basic needs) is necessary to improve workplace wellbeing (Deci, Conell, & Ryan, 1989; Gillet, Gagne, Sauvagere, & Fouquereau, 2013).

SDT has also been chosen as the theoretical framework as it captures both hedonic and eudaemonic traditions of wellbeing. Ryan and Deci (2001) assert that wellbeing cannot be conceptualised based solely on happiness (hedonistic wellbeing) but needs to include meaningful pursuits and feelings of growth toward self-actualisation in the person (eudaemonic wellbeing). SDT is also concerned with how the social environment (the workplace) can either support or thwart a person's well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2017), which is particularly pertinent when attempting to understand wellbeing within 'intensely interpersonal' workplaces such as EC settings (Nislin et al., 2015, p. 2).

Research methodology and design

The study was designed to elicit the ideas and experiences of EC educators to identify a well-developed definition of workplace wellbeing in LDC centres and to understand factors that support or thwart wellbeing. The questions addressed in this paper are: what are EC educators' perceptions about workplace wellbeing, and what factors are influencing educator workplace wellbeing at the centre-based level?

The epistemological view underpinning this study is that of pragmatism. Researchers employing a pragmatic paradigm use multiple modes of data collection to complement each other. The choice of a mixed-methods research (MMR) design aligns with the philosophical underpinnings of pragmatism (Creswell, 2014). The complexity of EC educators' 'work' illustrates an interplay of work tasks, roles, relationships, as well as individual attributes of educators, structural and political factors, which can all influence teacher wellbeing (Cumming, Sumsion, & Wong, 2018).

The MMR design chosen was an exploratory sequential model with two phases, which emphasises and prioritises the collection and analysis of qualitative data in phase one (Creswell, 2014). MMR enables the researcher to use both qualitative and quantitative approaches and, rather than relying solely on either induction or deduction, uses abduction. Abduction or abductive reasoning means the researcher can move back and forth between theory and data and develop and/or change the theoretical framework throughout the research process (Morgan, 2007). Particular to this study, an inductive process of understanding the data, developing emerging patterns and themes was the key focus of phase one. However, the use of both EC educator wellbeing literature and SDT literature was also reflected in the data collection and analysis of phase one. Results from phase one serve as inputs for phase two. The focus of this paper is on phase one (see Figure 1 below).

Participants

Ethics approval for the study was obtained from Macquarie University. The researcher intentionally recruited participants with a variety of EC qualifications. Purposive sampling was employed in selecting the participants, as each participant was part of the population of interest. The initial step to recruit participants was to advertise through the Facebook group NSW Early Childhood Teachers with permission granted by the group's administrator. Educators then contacted the researcher by email for an information pack including details of the study, interview process and consent forms. The researcher arranged interviews and gained informed consent. The names of participants used in this paper are all pseudonyms.

Participants were 22 female EC educators (7*Certificate, 7*Diploma, 8*early childhood teacher (ECT)) who resided in the Newcastle and Sydney regions of NSW, Australia. They were all women aged between 20 to 60 years and had worked in the sector for between 2 and 37 years. Educators were employed in LDC centres in a range of governance structures (council based, workplace based, private, not-for-profit and independent schools). The type of centre may make a difference to the wellbeing of educators, making it important that the participants are representative of various governance structures.

Method

Face-to-face, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted to develop a rich understanding of workplace wellbeing. In-depth interviews were considered appropriate as the intention was to 'elicit views and opinions from the participants' (Creswell, 2014, p. 190). Semi-structured interviews were considered important to provide some consistency in the data collection and analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). The interviews included open-ended questions asking educators to define workplace wellbeing, such as 'what does "workplace wellbeing" mean to you?'. Questions were also derived from existing EC educator wellbeing literature and SDT literature to gain a deep understanding of factors contributing to or thwarting workplace wellbeing in the ECEC sector. Thus, questions covered relational, environmental, structural and social factors, such as 'How do your relationships with others impact on your workplace well-being?' and 'how do your workplace conditions impact on your workplace wellbeing?'.

Interview data were transcribed and analysed with the assistance of NVivo 11 qualitative data analysis software. The data analysis revealed a broad concept of workplace well-being incorporating psychological, social and physiological wellbeing. Three key themes emerged from the data analysis, which influenced educator workplace wellbeing: (a) a strong sense of belonging; (b) workplace equity; and (c) the concept of 'workplace flow'.

Themes were both theory and data driven and emerged during three stages of data coding: open, axial and selective (thematic) (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). Open coding was conducted to explore each interview and identify concepts connected to workplace wellbeing. Open coding was a conscious decision to ensure all concepts relating to wellbeing were captured, rather than purely relying on the key elements of SDT (theoretical frame) or previous literature, as this could potentially dilute the findings and restrict the overall potential of the data. Examples of open codes included: workplace conditions (time, pay and release from face-to-face teaching) relationships with colleagues, the societal value of the ECEC sector and emotional labour. During axial coding, relationships between codes were identified. An example of an axial code that emerged from the data was the SDT concept, the provision of an 'autonomy-supportive environment'. SDT defines an autonomy-supportive environment as the 'interpersonal climate created by the manager in relating to subordinates' (Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004; p. 2048). Selective (thematic) coding was then conducted with the three key themes emerging.

To increase the rigor of results, the researchers applied collaborative qualitative analysis. A codebook developed during open and axial coding with three members of the research group (Gibbert, Ruigrok, & Wicki, 2008). These three researchers then independently coded a full (previously un-coded) interview transcript to test the robustness of the codebook (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). Intercoder reliability was strong, with high levels of agreement between the coders.

Findings

Definitions of workplace wellbeing

Most educators conceptualised workplace wellbeing as a psychological construct that was influenced by social, economic, environmental and relational aspects. Psychological wellbeing had a larger emphasis throughout the teacher interviews compared to other qualifications. Those participants with a teaching degree were more likely to describe psychological wellbeing in their interviews (ECTs mentioned 83 times; Diploma staff 32 times; and Certificate 3 educators 33 times). This is perhaps resonant of Lovgren's (2016) findings, where teachers felt they had high expectations and demands with regard to parent relations and teaching children.

The complexity of wellbeing and the interplay of factors required to support wellbeing was expressed by all participants. The following excerpt in Melissa's interview illustrates this complexity as she describes emotional, relational and contextual aspects in her statement:
I think, for me, well, as a, as somebody who works directly with the
children I think it's like a good support, good team within the room,
and a good support from management in terms of having the resources we
need, not having to fight for those sorts of things, having the correct
staff ratio or above to help in the room, those sorts of things... it
encompasses staff happiness, I guess, so, you know, happy staff mean
happy children. (Melissa, ECT)


Although Melissa's definition focused on hedonic wellbeing as her focus is on happiness, eudaemonic wellbeing was also described in other participant definitions. For example, Felicity's idea of workplace wellbeing had a more eudaemonic focus as she discussed her need to engage in meaningful work. Together, the comments suggest a holistic conceptualisation of wellbeing, such as described in SDT, is a fitting representation. Felicity states:
I think it means that you feel that what you're doing is worth
something, you know, like you've got a passion for something and you
put your heart and soul into something. Yes, and I think that's where
your wellbeing comes from, that you feel like you've accomplished
something. (Felicity, Certificate 3)


Applying the lens of SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985) to the data highlighted the importance of having the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness and competence) being met and the presence of an autonomy-supportive context supporting EC educator wellbeing. The following section describes each theme and includes EC educators' 'voices'. Each theme highlights the complexity of supporting wellbeing in the ECEC sector and provides initial validation for using SDT as a framework to understand workplace wellbeing at the centre level as well as an innovative way of developing practical strategies to enhance wellbeing.

Theme one: a sense of belonging and 'finding your tribe'

The most influential factor from the data to support workplace wellbeing was having a strong sense of belonging within the centre and particularly within the room in which the educator worked. A sense of belonging primarily supports the basic psychological need (BPN) of relatedness. Working with others who share the same pedagogical philosophies and who value individuals' strengths has the potential to increase autonomous motivation. Moreover, being invested in the centre philosophy with others supports the BPN of autonomy (Jones, Hadley, & Johnstone, 2017). When educators are cooperating in their teams, greater efficiency allows for more productive, quality work and therefore supports the BPN of competence (Jones et al., 2017).

Each participant mentioned the importance of strong relationships with their colleagues as having a positive impact on their workplace wellbeing. Interestingly, their focus tended to be on a personal level where they described kind, caring and nurturing relationships. These personal relationships fed into their professional workplace relationships. Educators often described their room or centre teams as 'a family'. These educators knew a lot about each other on a personal and professional level and were often aware of stressful events such as an aging parent or a rebellious teenager occurring in their colleagues' home life and felt empa-thetic towards that person. Sue stated:
And when you know each other well, kindness comes and the understanding
that we cannot come into work like blank slates... it is not possible
to come in and completely leave the home life behind... working within
a team and having leaders and managers who understand this is important
for educator wellbeing. (Sue, Diploma)


Participants were accepting of each other and considerate of others' situations and feelings. Their relationships were strong as they entrusted each other with personal details. They knew each other well, which ensured strategies to improve wellbeing were person specific. Sometimes support was offered when educators confronted particularly stressful life situations:
She was amazing [the director], she would ring when, like, particularly
with mum and in between times of caring for her I would say, look, you
know, I can come to work, like I was physically able to. But then I'd
start crying and she'd say, like, you're not coming and sometimes you'd
sound fine and you'd feel like you're okay and she'd tell you, you
know, you can't come in. (Amanda, Diploma)


At other times, it was meeting the preferences of colleagues when possible, just to make their day better:
You know Polly is outside and I know she doesn't like the heat, so I'll
say to her... during indoor and outdoor program and I'll say do you
want to come inside. (Gemma, Diploma)


In summary, data reflected the importance of self-care, being kind and considerate of colleagues' needs, feelings and situations. The data also revealed the value of working from a strength-based approach to support workplace wellbeing. Strength-based teams focus on individuals' strengths and potential rather than weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003; Dunst, Trivette, & Deal, 1994), thus providing more opportunities to meet the BPN of competence.

Previous research has identified collegial relationships (positive and supporting) as a buffer against stress and burnout (Blochliger & Bauer, 2018; Hur et al., 2016) as well as directly contributing to wellbeing (Lovgren, 2016; Nislin et al., 2015). Moreover, Nilsin and colleagues found an association between salivary alpha-amylase measures and teamwork. In other words, higher-quality teamwork meant lower stress levels. Their findings provide initial physiological evidence that strong teams (identified by cooperation, shared pedagogical philosophies and well-defined roles) can support workplace wellbeing.

Theme two: workplace equity

Workplace equity was identified in the data and encompassed: organisational structure (at a centre level); roles and responsibilities; and wages and working conditions (including family flexibility). Several participants mentioned a rigid hierarchical organisational based on educator qualifications (i.e. the higher the qualification, the more valued and greater assumed decision-making power) negatively affected their workplace wellbeing. Consequently, they felt undervalued, underappreciated and not trusted to make decisions, resulting in low levels of autonomy. Kristy described her previous centre as having a very structured hierarchy within the room. When asked about how this made her feel, she replied:
Undervalued. Like they just didn't trust me. They just... you know, we
were just assistants. We cleaned and we supervised, and I think that's
all they thought of us, which is sad. Yes. I always had differences
with the room leader. I think it was a control thing and the centre was
very much a hierarchy. Sorry, but if you were a room leader, you were
above everyone else and had longer breaks. (Kristy, Diploma)


In contrast, participants in centres with a less hierarchical organisational structure felt respected and able to utilise their individual strengths regardless of their qualification and therefore addressed the BPNs of autonomy and competence. However, several participants also felt it was unfair to have educators with different qualifications (and therefore under different awards) with similar responsibilities and expectations. For instance, Jess noted:
Now everybody has to do a lot which I think is... I don't think
Diplomas get paid enough. I think it's an absolute joke. And that's a
big thing for their wellbeing as well, that they're doing the same
job... as what the teachers are doing. (Jess, ECT)


Previous literature has identified low pay as a factor influencing workplace wellbeing. The majority of participants (n = 20) did not feel their salary was adequate or equitable. Those with a teaching qualification were particularly frustrated when discussing the marked differences in pay and conditions of their primary school counterparts. Overall, the general feeling was that the pay was not reflective of the responsibilities or workload their roles required. Amanda said:
And I just feel the money is not good enough for the qualifications
and what we do, we look after people... Like when the train guys going
to go on strike the other day, the train services, they said on the
news, you know, they need a pay rise, they're responsible for people's
lives on the trains every day. I said, hey, we're responsible for lots
of people's lives too, but we don't get recognised financially like
that. (Amanda, Diploma)


Current early childhood discourse highlights a mismatch between pay and conditions defined under industrial awards and the qualifications and expectations of educators and teachers in LDC centres both nationally and internationally (Boyd, 2013; McKinlay et al., 2018).

Theme three: workplace flow

The concept of 'workplace flow' was described by over half of the educators (n = 14) participating in this study. Having a classroom that ran smoothly and effectively on a day-to-day basis was highly valued and led to higher levels of wellbeing. Sally described workplace flow and explained why it was important for her wellbeing:
When I'm on top of it I feel like I'm on a roll and bouncing off the
other staff member in the room, that gets me up there. And then we get
on a roll and we get things rolling and yes, different ideas and
activities happening and that gets me really up there too.
(Sally, Diploma)


Workplace flow relied on the presence of social and structural factors and needed to meet the three BPNs of relatedness, competence and autonomy. Within the room, stability of educators, being open and respectful and knowing each other's strengths was vital (relatedness); having clear roles and responsibilities made it easier for the team to work efficiently (competence); whereas congruent teaching philosophies (between educators) supported a sense of autonomy. When Ruby was asked about how her room team affected her wellbeing she described getting into a 'flow' and how this can be broken when the centre experiences staff turnover:
Say if you just get a flow, like a routine and you all know each
other's strengths... maybe I'm not so good at paperwork and she is.
Like, you all pick up each other's slack. And then with new staff
coming, you get a rhythm and they come and it's like, oh, I have to
start again. (Ruby, Certificate 3)


The concept of 'flow' from these interviews resonated with findings by Costa, Passos, and Bakker (2014) who reported individual well-being can enhance the wellbeing of other educators, resulting in a cycle of positive energy within the classroom. Nilsin and colleagues (2016) found evidence that physiological indicators of stress were lower in teams where the educators 'shared the same philosophy and where roles and tasks were well-defined' (p. 38). They proposed educators working in cooperative teams were 'energised and able to manage work demands' (p. 38).

Findings from phase one have highlighted the importance of meeting the three BPNs of educators to support healthy workplace well-being. As previously stated, workplaces that support the attainment of these needs are known as autonomy-supportive contexts and improve employee wellbeing. Findings from phase one of this study provide initial evidence for developing autonomy-supportive workplaces specific to the EC context.

Practical implications for educators and centre leaders

To create and maintain a strong sense of belonging, educator 'voices' focused on the importance of strong personal relationships with their colleagues and in particular being empa-thetic of each other's home-life circumstances.

Centre leaders can help develop and strengthen personal relationships by promoting and facilitating staff socials, implementing team-building experiences and by providing workplace conditions that consider educators' life situations. Strategies might include improving family-friendly work practices, for example covering an educator for a few hours so they can attend a school award ceremony for their child. Another strategy might be to allow short breaks to recharge on a particularly stressful day. Jess, an ECT, worked in a centre where short breaks were encouraged:
The staff are all a team as well so if you were feeling stressed,
saying I just can't cope today they would say go have a cup of coffee.
Go make yourself a cup of tea, go and sit down for 2 minutes.


Working from a strength-based approach was important for educators to feel valued and appreciated and that they belonged. Centre leaders can work with educators to determine individual skills, strengths and potential and then provide conditions to support educators to reach their potential. Conditions might include mentoring opportunities for more experienced educators or developing leadership opportunities for particular skills and interests, for example, an educator who is passionate and knowledgeable about sustainability could become the centre sustainability officer. Additionally, just as educators help to create a sense of belong for children by considering the physical environment, leaders can do this for educators. Displaying staff photos, providing an aesthetically pleasing staffroom and personal lockers were some ideas offered by the participants to support a sense of belonging to the centre.

The findings suggest that to improve workplace equity, a person's qualification level should be taken into consideration when clarifying roles and responsibilities. When creating job descriptions, leaders need a strong awareness of the content, knowledge and skills developed within each qualification level. Roles and responsibilities expected of an educator should generally be consistent with the learning outcomes of their qualification. Importantly, the provision of conditions (e.g. sufficient programming time) to enable employees to meet expected roles/responsibilities within their job description is seen by educators as crucial in reducing stress and enhancing wellbeing. Working conditions and pay rates could be individualised to appraise individual strengths and experience.

The concept of 'workplace flow' was identified as supporting educator wellbeing. Several participants highlighted a stable room team helped to facilitate the smooth day-to-day running of the room. Of course, not all teams work well together, however, centre leaders can support educator wellbeing by keeping strong, high-functioning room teams together. Leaders can also support workplace flow by discussing with the room team what is working and what is not in the routine; facilitating the team to develop specific shift responsibilities; and providing time for room meetings away from the classroom.

Future directions

The key themes and concepts identified in phase one will serve as inputs for phase two. Phase two includes the development and dissemination of an EC educator workplace well-being survey. The survey will examine whether the variables associated with EC educator wellbeing (from phase one) are applicable to a wide range of educators across Australia. This doctoral study will provide a rich and detailed picture of what workplace wellbeing looks like in LDC centres within the Australian context. It is envisaged the findings from this research have the potential to develop a leadership model for enhancing and supporting workplace wellbeing for LDC practitioners. Raising the wellbeing of educators has the capacity to improve retention, job satisfaction and performance, reduce absenteeism and improve physical health outcomes

Declaration of conflicting interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Catherine Jones

Macquarie University, Australia

Fay Hadley

Macquarie University, Australia

Manjula Waniganayake

Macquarie University, Australia

Melissa Johnstone

Macquarie University, Australia

Corresponding author:

Catherine Jones, Macquarie University, Balaclava Road, North Ryde, NSW, 2109, Australia.

Email: Catherine.jones@mq.edu.au

DOI: 10.1177/1836939119870906
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Title Annotation:Article
Author:Jones, Catherine; Hadley, Fay; Waniganayake, Manjula; Johnstone, Melissa
Publication:Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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