6 Ideas to Improve Your Workplace Culture
Workplace culture is such an important aspect of attracting and retaining quality staff, especially NOW while so many employers are experiencing a shortage of applicants in this post-COVID climate.
Even during ideal times, people that are interested in working with children want to be in a positive environment and feel like they are making a difference in the work that they are doing. Creating and maintaining an enjoyable work environment is essential to the success of your child care business and will be key to keeping your employees long-term.
If you feel like you might need to improve the culture at your school, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Also, we’d like to recommend you pick up a copy of Relationship Roadmap: Real-World Strategies for Building a Positive, Collaborative Culture in Your Preschool as a resource to help you with all things leadership and culture in your child care center. Check out this video where Brian reviews the book.
These are the 6 Ideas to Improve Your Workplace Culture
Set an Example for Your Team to Model
Every person on your team carries with them a personal responsibility for their own behaviors and actions, but YOU as the leader set the tone for the whole organization. Your actions & attitudes, whether you are the owner or director, will be scrutinized and modeled by members of your team. If you want to have a positive workplace culture at your child care or preschool, you’ll need to take the concept of leadership seriously.
If you are caring, energetic, positive, trustworthy, and approachable your team is more likely to rise to the level of performance that you desire from them. They will want to do what they can to meet your standards and excel in their role because they respect you as a leader. They will want to contribute! On the other hand, if you are tired, gossipy, negative, dismissive, or apathetic, your team will have a harder time aligning with you.
There’s a lot going on in a child care center at any given moment. It can be easy to get off track from time to time and think you’ve got this leadership thing covered. Just be sure to intentionally and purposefully schedule time into your week to strengthen your leadership muscles. Listen to podcasts, read books, take courses, participate in challenges, organize a peer group, journal, set goals. Just make sure that you are continually sharpening your saw so you can be the leader your team needs to fulfill your vision. (Check out our recommended reading list for leadership here.)
Share Your Company Vision and Core Values
People want to be a part of a cause. They want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. When they feel like they are making a difference you’ll have a happier team, which will also contribute to your positive workplace culture. When you lack the ability to truly lead, people will not see a reason to follow you.
You must give them a reason to align with you and join you to work toward your vision. One of the best ways to do this is to create vision and core values statements for your school. Then make sure that all the decisions you make in your child care business align with your vision and core values. Your policies, handbooks, practices, actions, etc. should reflect your core values in all you do. You should use them to make hiring and firing decisions. If you have a performance issue with a staff member, bring it back to the core values. If everyone on the team agrees to align and live up to the company’s core values, it’s much easier to hold staff members accountable to these ideals later.
If you have no idea where to start, Chapter 2 of Relationship Roadmap has some great exercises for getting started. Check the book out here.
Choose the Right Team Members and Demonstrate You Value Them
The leaders on your team are a huge part of your workplace culture, but so are the team members you have in place! It is important that you choose the right people and make them continually feel like a valued part of your team. Start before they are even hired by crafting interview questions that will help you get to know the type of person you are about to hire and be sure to ask about their own core values and goals.
When you do make a great hire, be sure to go out of your way to do everything possible to make their onboarding experience special. Be prepared, and add little touches to let them know you are excited about adding them to the team. This can include getting them flowers or taking them to lunch to welcome them, taking their picture for the staff wall, or having their locker labeled ahead of time. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Just find some unique ways to let them know that they matter to you and your business from day one!
And don’t forget about the staff that has been with you for a while. You can never stop letting them know that you value them. When people feel appreciated, they will go above and beyond for you. However, when they feel forgotten and taken for granted, their negative energy can start to ooze out into the atmosphere (even unintentionally), infecting the center environment. Find ways to praise every member of your team publicly and recognize them for a job well done. Notice little things such as, “Katie, thank you for not only changing the trash after snack but also for washing out the bin. I noticed it was a bit sticky too and I appreciate you going above and beyond and taking care of that without being asked.“ If you can point out a core value that this matches with, even better.
When you have a poor performer or a negative Nellie on your team, it’s important to get to the bottom of it and correct the issue as soon as possible or risk the spread of negativity in your workplace culture. Have a private one-on-one meeting with the person in question to see if there are any issues that can be resolved or improvements made. But if you cannot see a way to keep this person on your team, let them go as quickly as possible. You may need some time to find their replacement but begin the process quickly. Keeping toxic team members on your team for too long will discourage your top-notch teachers and make them want to look for greener pastures.
Make Safe and Healthy Communication a Priority
A positive workplace culture cannot exist without making your school a place where healthy communication is a priority. Staff members should feel like their leaders and their co-workers have their best interests a heart and that information is shared in a positive, timely, and healthy way. If your team doesn’t feel like they have the information they need to do their jobs well, it can be quite discouraging. In the hustle and bustle of a busy child care center, it’s easy for little things to fall through the cracks. For instance, a message doesn’t get passed to the right teacher and naptime gets disturbed when Joseph’s mom picks up early for a doctor appointment, or the lunch menu gets changed due to a supply issue and teachers weren’t informed. Little things like this can really impact a teacher’s day and make them feel like nobody cares about them when they happen too often. Be sure to create systems for communicating important information with your teams.
It can also be overwhelming if a staff member feels like there is a problem that needs to be addressed but they don’t feel like they will be received well by leadership if they bring it up. They might be afraid of a knee-jerk reaction, feeling like nothing will be done anyway, or like they will become the subject of gossip for bringing the situation to light. If you want to improve your workplace culture, your team should feel safe bringing any issues to you. Be sure that it is known that open and honest communication is a priority, and let your actions back that up so your team is willing to bring up real issues and work toward positive solutions with you.
Bring Elements of Fun into the Workplace Whenever Possible
Everyone loves to have fun. When you can find little ways to bring fun into the workplace, you’ll go a long way to improving your workplace culture. Being in the child care business, it’s almost like a license to have fun. We are not stuck in stuffy offices or required to wear suits, ties, or pantyhose. We play with play-doh, build with blocks, and make wacky animal noises for a living. We work in the perfect environment to get silly, so as leaders, look for intentional ways to make work FUN for your team.
Have silly costume contest days, create a fun breakroom where your team can relax on their break, surprise them with yummy snacks, organize pot luck lunches, decorate their door or locker on their birthday, do impromptu trivia about licensing or policies and give prizes, have a local food truck deliver lunch for the team, create secret handshakes, declare random dance-offs. The sky is the limit, but get creative and find ways to bring fun INTO the workplace whenever possible.
Create Opportunities for Growth and Advancement
When you can find ways to invest in your team by providing professional development opportunities it can improve your workplace culture because it sends a message to your team that you value them and are willing to invest in their growth. I am talking about going over and above the required training hours that licensing requires. Find ways to bring trainers into your school and hold professional development days, send them to a conference that might inspire them, or pay for an arts & crafts class that they are interested in (and will also benefit them in their role).
Also, look for ways that you can give extra responsibilities to members of your team, and honor them with a title. Working in a child care center has a “flat” organizational chart. There’s the director, assistant director, lead teachers, and assistant teachers/floaters. There’s usually not a lot of room for upward movement with only one or 2 “management roles” and 20+ teacher/support roles. However, you can create positions such as committee leaders, resident experts, or project managers to share some of the load and give talented and willing members of your team opportunities to shine.