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It's OK to not be OK

May 14, 2021
5 minute read

We have seen an increasing emphasis and awareness on mental health and wellbeing over the last few years. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has bought with it a spotlight, shining on emotional health and wellbeing, particularly in the workplace.
A huge proportion of Early Years settings remained open during the course of the pandemic, juggling staff on furlough, those shielding or isolating, with the changing demands of parents childcare needs. To say we have managed change is an understatement and this has taken it's toll on the health and wellbeing of leaders across the sector.
Nursery managers, directors and childminders have prioritised the emotional wellbeing of their staff teams throughout the crisis, despite lack of recognition for the amazing work we do. Research by CMI has also found that 72% of employees rated their wellbeing as a top priority for managers and this has been evident across the early years sector. However, many settings are still to complete a formal mental health and wellbeing strategy. Having a strategy, process or procedure regarding the management of mental health and wellbeing in your setting, can enable you to support your teams in a structured and professional way, reducing your stress levels as a result!
However, we know that not everyone will reach out for support when they need it, so it's essential to know how to spot the signs of stress and declining mental health in ourselves and in our workforce.

Lead the way

The pandemic has forced us, as leaders, to talk about our own challenges with mental health as well as support the wellbeing of our teams. Early Years leaders need to understand the correlations between employee wellbeing and performance, understanding that practice and performance is intrinsically linked to mental health. Working with children requires practitioners to smile, be happy and light-hearted, sing, dance and perform in ways which are truly problematic for someone with mental heath challenges. It is impossible to continue with the ‘game face’ all of the time!
The problem we face is stigma. Often, people with mental health challenges will feel like they are letting down the team, being a weak link or might be overlooked when it comes or progression or promotion. This stigma leads them to cover up their mental health problems and prevents them for reaching out for help. This is where you have to lead the way.
Being as open as you can about any challenges you may be facing with your own mental health will not only make you real and relatable, but your team are far more likely to reach out to you for help. Being a trusted and respected leader will encourage your team to talk to you and ask for support.
Ensure that you have a mental health strategy in place, that staff can access, which sign posts them to support and encourages them to be honest and open will provide further support for your teams.

Time to Talk

Having open and honest conversations with your team is the way forward, but it’s often difficult to know what to say to someone if they are experiencing challenges that you don’t have the skills or knowledge in to support them effectively. As a leader, it is not your job to know everything about everything, but your team are your responsibility. Having an open door policy and a listening ear is really all you need, along with the ability to signpost to external services that may off the required support.
Having the ability to empathise with somebody is an important aspect of leadership, but you don’t have to try and fix your staff members problems. Often managers will turn into ‘fix it’ mode and try to find the solutions for the member of the team. But that’s not necessary. Sometimes it is just about listening to what is causing those concerns inside and outside of the setting that is important.

Put your own mask on first

When you take off on holiday, the captain of the plane will tell you that in the event on an emergency, put your own mask on first, and this is essential when supporting the mental health of your team. If your own mental health is suffering, how can you effectively help others? Taking regular breaks, getting out of your office, and being a role model to the rest of the team is vital.

Know the signs

Knowing the signs and spotting them early can be powerful in finding early support. It’s not always easy to spot the signs that someone is struggling, as mental health concerns can it can manifest themselves in lots of ways. However, there are some signs to look out for:

  • Increased irritability
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Over-worrying about things
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Underperformance
  • Physical health complaints
  • Constant tiredness

It is important to remember that not all signs are negative We often look out for signs such as people losing concentration, or becoming withdrawn, but the opposite could also be the case. For me personally, when I become stressed or anxious, I throw myself into work. I lock myself away in my office and use my work as a distraction from whatever is causing me anxiety or becoming a challenge emotionally. However, I am learning that this is not a productive way to take care of myself.

Be kind

To yourself as well as everyone else. As leaders, we can often be our own worst enemy, giving great advice and support, but not taking it for ourselves. Remember that you are only human and although we may put on our capes each day, we do not have super powers. Be kind to your own mental health and wellbeing and be sure to have a buddy, coach, friend or family member who you can reach out to for support when you need it.
If you have found this post useful, check out this mental heath week post.

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