Updated: Aug 13, 2020
This year’s National Conversation Week is all about talking finances, a subject many people find hard to discuss. The Early Years sector is renowned for its low status and low pay, with many outstanding practitioners leaving their settings for better paid jobs in other sectors. According to The Early Years Alliance*, ‘Poor pay was cited as a problem both in attracting quality candidates and retaining current staff. Staff said that current pay levels were “incompatible” with the demands of their role. Single-earner families were likely to choose a better paid profession so that they could support their family while graduates were likely to opt for a better paid sector.’
Early years professionals have seen a 5% reduction in their pay, in real terms, since 2013, according to a report from the Education Policy Institute** (EPI). It is clear to see why many early years professionals are finding themselves in increasing debt and suffering financial hardship. With many practitioners using public transport, commuting costs can be hard to manage. Add that to the ever increasing costs of living and it’s no wonder great practitioners are choosing other career paths, a huge loss to the sector.
But for those who stick it out, see their role as a vocation and attempt to make the money work, the pressures of making ends meet can take their toll emotionally. ‘Money and mental health are often linked. Poor mental health can make managing money harder, and worrying about money can make your mental health worse, which can be a vicious cycle to get stuck in.’
This is where having a great leader can make all the difference. Being able to have difficult conversations is a skill many of us strive to master, but the effect on the practitioner can be huge. Imagine struggling with debt, feeling overwhelmed, unsure of how to get out of the spiralling hole and having no one to turn to for support. Now imagine the same scenario with a leader who understands, empathises, supports and signposts you in the right direction. This can be life changing.
The conversation may seem daunting, after all, we don’t want to pry or seem nosey. But a problem shared really is a problem halved and can make all the difference. Here's how to approach the difficult conversation if you are concerned about a colleague;
Find an opportunity where you will have time to talk without being disturbed. We all know how busy a setting office can be, but closing the door and ensuring uninterrupted time to talk is essential.
Listen. Then listen some more. We often want to become problem solvers, solution finders and offer great ways to beat off the beast but this isn't necessary. More often than not all you need to do it listen and the person will find their way to their own solutions as they talk through their problems.
Get real. If the colleague is happy to, support them in writing down all the debt they have. This can often put things into perspective and getting it onto paper can bring clarity.
Signpost. If external help seems to be the best way forward, help your colleague to find agencies that will support them. Perhaps the Citizens Advice Bureau or the Debt Support Trust can help.
Check in. Debt doesn’t disappear over night and nor will the worry and stress that goes along with it, so be sure to check in and see how things are going.
There is not expectation that as an early years leader you have the skills and knowledge to guide a colleague out of debt, but one trait that all early years leaders have is compassion. We care and we make a great cup of tea! If you can see someone struggling, either with debt or anything else, put the kettle on and use your good listening ears!
For further information see : http://www.nationalconversationweek.co.uk/get-involved