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Guide for Nursery Managers: How to Support Men's Mental Health in Your Early Years Setting

June 11, 2024
10 minute read

Claudio Sisera, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Male Childcare & Teaching Jobs

Mental health in the workplace is a topic that’s gaining much-needed attention these days. As nursery managers, we are in a unique position to influence the well-being of our staff, including the men who work alongside us. Supporting men's mental health is not just a compassionate choice; it's crucial for fostering a positive, productive, and harmonious early years setting. Male educators often face unique challenges when it comes to mental health. Societal expectations and cultural norms can make it difficult for them to open up about their struggles. It's essential that we recognise these barriers and actively work to create an environment where men feel safe and supported in addressing their mental health needs.

In this article, I’ll guide you through practical steps to support men’s mental health in your nursery. By the end, you'll have a comprehensive toolkit to make a real difference in your early years setting.

Understanding Men's Mental Health

When it comes to mental health, men often face a unique set of challenges. Common issues include anxiety, depression, and stress, which can be exacerbated by the pressures of providing for a family and meeting societal expectations of strength and stoicism. Unfortunately, these expectations often prevent men from seeking help, leading to feelings of isolation and worsening mental health conditions.

Stigma plays a significant role in how men approach their mental health. From a young age, many men are taught to suppress their emotions, leading to a reluctance to talk about their feelings or seek professional support. This cultural expectation can be particularly intense in high-pressure environments like early years settings, where nurturing roles are traditionally seen as female-dominated. Statistics underscore the severity of this issue. According to a study by the Mental Health Foundation, three times as many men as women die by suicide in the UK. Furthermore, men are less likely to access psychological therapies compared to women, with only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies being men. Within the early years sector, these figures can be even more stark due to the added stress of working in a demanding and often undervalued profession.

Research specific to early years settings is limited, but it’s clear that the general trends apply here as well. Men working in nurseries and other early years settings face the same societal pressures and stigmas, compounded by the challenges of a profession that requires constant emotional investment. Recognising these challenges is the first step in creating a supportive environment for men’s mental health.

Creating Peer Support Networks for Men in Early Years

Have you ever noticed how much better you feel after talking to someone who really listens and gets you? Encouraging your staff to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment is paramount in any workplace. 

However, it's important to recognise that some men might not feel 100% confident opening up to female staff due to societal pressure and misconceptions. They may also worry about repercussions at work or feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues in a predominantly female environment. This is where external support groups come in. These groups are essential to ensure men in early years can freely open up about their struggles and experiences without any repercussions at work and without the pressure of societal expectations. External networks can provide same-gender mentoring and coaching, something that men might lack in their workplaces, which can be incredibly beneficial. 

For example, the support mentoring programme we run at Male Childcare & Teaching Jobs has been a lifeline for many. Recently, one of our members shared how the group helped him navigate professional relationships at work. Through regular meetings and open discussions, he gained valuable insights and strategies that improved his interactions with colleagues and boosted his confidence. 

Supporting Men’s Mental Health in Early Years through Training and Education

Training and education are critical components in supporting men's mental health in early years settings. When all staff are equipped with the right knowledge and skills, it creates a foundation for a healthier and more supportive workplace. First, let's talk about the importance of mental health training for all staff. Have you ever felt unsure about how to help a colleague who seems to be struggling? Mental health training can provide clarity. It teaches staff to recognise the signs of mental health issues, understand their impact, and respond appropriately. This ensures that everyone in the nursery can contribute to a supportive environment.

Now, why is specific training for recognising and supporting men's mental health necessary? Men often exhibit different symptoms or coping mechanisms compared to women. For instance, men might express distress through anger or irritability rather than sadness, partly due to societal stigma or the pressure to appear strong. In addition to mental health training, providing training on gender inclusivity awareness for all staff is also incredibly beneficial. This training should cover recognising signs of struggles for men in early years, providing initial support, fair employment practices, and knowing how to raise the profile of men in early years amongst children, staff, parents and other members of the public.

Combining mental health training with gender inclusivity training ensures a holistic approach to men’s wellbeing.

Encouraging Work-Life Balance through Enhanced Benefits Packages and Flexible Working

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for men’s mental health, and it’s particularly important in demanding environments like early years settings. When staff can balance their professional responsibilities with personal time, they are more likely to be happy, healthy, and productive.

The impact of work-life balance on mental health cannot be overstated. Without it, stress and burnout can quickly set in, leading to decreased job satisfaction and potential mental health issues. Encouraging a balance between work and personal life helps staff recharge and return to work more focused and motivated.

So, how can we help men achieve a better work-life balance? Instead of just focusing on higher salaries, consider offering enhanced benefits packages tailored to support men’s mental health. Understanding what benefits are most valued can be achieved through conversations, surveys, and feedback methods. Tailoring benefits to their interests shows you value their wellbeing and makes your positions more supportive.

Here are some examples to support men’s mental health: · Equal Parental Leave: Offering the same parental leave benefits for fathers as for mothers supports men in balancing work and family life. This can help fathers bond with their newborns and share childcare responsibilities, promoting a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. · Health and Wellness Programmes: Provide access to mental health resources, gym memberships, and wellness programmes tailored to men’s health. For instance, you could offer free or discounted memberships to local gyms and organise workshops on stress management and healthy living.

· Professional Development: Offer opportunities for men to advance their careers through training courses, workshops, webinars, mentoring, and certifications in early childhood education. An example is providing annual funding for staff to attend industry conferences or pursue advanced certifications relevant to their roles.

· Childcare Benefits: Assist with childcare costs or provide on-site childcare options for staff, making it easier for fathers to manage work and family responsibilities. This can be particularly beneficial for single fathers who might need additional support. · Financial Planning Services: Offer financial planning assistance, including retirement planning, to help staff manage their financial wellbeing. For instance, provide access to financial advisors who can help with budgeting, saving for retirement, and managing debt.

· Flexible Working Hours: Allow staff to adjust their schedules to fit personal commitments. Whether it’s starting later to accommodate school drop-offs or leaving early for an appointment, flexibility can reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing.

· Split Shifts: Let staff work split shifts, where they can choose to work a few hours in the morning and return for a few hours in the afternoon. This can be especially beneficial for male educators with personal commitments during the day, such as caring for their own children, studying, or engaging in other professional activities.

· Compressed Work Weeks: Offer a compressed work week option, where educators work longer hours over four days and have the fifth day off. This arrangement can help staff achieve a better work-life balance by giving them an extra day for personal activities.

· Term-Time Only Contracts: Provide contracts that align with school terms, giving staff the same holidays as their children. This can be particularly attractive for fathers and help reduce stress around finding childcare during school breaks. To manage school holidays and half terms, consider hiring seasonal or temporary staff, offering holiday programmes that require fewer staff, utilising staff from other branches, or incentivising half-term and holiday work with extra benefits or additional pay.

· Flexible Start and End Times: Allow educators to choose their start and end times within a certain range. For example, staff could start their day anytime between 7:00 AM and 10:00 AM and finish accordingly. This flexibility can accommodate different personal schedules and reduce commuting stress. Additionally, incentivising low-demand hours, such as early starts and late hours, with extra pay or benefits can ensure coverage throughout the day.

· Job Sharing: Implement job-sharing positions where two part-time educators share the responsibilities of one full-time role. This approach can attract candidates looking for part-time work and increase the diversity of your workforce. Job sharing can also be effective in higher roles, such as room leaders and nursery managers, bringing diverse skills and perspectives to leadership positions. Providing training on effective communication and collaboration is key to ensuring seamless teamwork.

· Remote Planning Days: Offer remote working days for planning and administrative tasks. This allows educators to work from home occasionally, reducing travel time and providing a change of environment that can boost productivity and job satisfaction.


Supporting men's mental health in early years settings is not just the right thing to do; it’s essential for creating a positive and productive workplace. By understanding the unique challenges men face, fostering a supportive environment, providing access to mental health resources, and promoting work-life balance, we can make a significant difference in the wellbeing of our male colleagues.

I encourage all nursery managers to take proactive steps in implementing these strategies. Remember, even small changes can have a big impact. Whether it's setting up peer support networks, offering flexible working hours, or regularly evaluating your mental health initiatives, every effort counts.

About the Author

Claudio Sisera has accumulated 12 years of experience in Early Years education, progressing swiftly from an apprentice to a manager after earning his Level 3 Qualification. He owned his own setting for two years before moving into roles in Early Years Recruiting and Marketing. Despite his diverse experience, Claudio discovered his true passion in Diversity and Inclusion. Currently, he is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Male Childcare & Teaching Jobs, where he advocates for more men in the early years industry, supports male practitioners through mentorship, and helps nurseries attract and include more male professionals.

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