National estimates put child care staff turnover between 25% and 40% annually. We all understand why this is bad; lack of continuity for children, the cost of hiring and training new staff (estimated to be at least $3,000 per employee), a decrease in staff morale, and negative parent perceptions leading to decreased enrollment. The million dollar question is: What do I do to retain my quality staff?
The obvious answer is higher pay, but we all know that is often not possible. However, careful attention must be paid to the program budget to ensure that staff are compensated fairly and as well as possible.
There are additional, low-cost steps that can be taken to reduce staff turnover.
The first step is to hire well. Make sure that potential employees thoroughly understand your program philosophy and your expectations for their performance. Develop interview questions that will help you understand how this individual would respond to various situations, how he or she will work with other staff members, and how the applicant will fit with the overall culture of your program. You may want to consider scheduling a "working interview" to give you the chance to observe the applicant in a classroom with children as well.
The next step is to provide a thorough new employee orientation. Again, your new employee has the opportunity to really understand your program and your specific expectations for his or her position. New employees see your commitment to a thorough orientation as an investment in them, feel more comfortable in their positions and develop greater job satisfaction.
The next step is to ensure that your program has a professional environment and that all employees are encouraged to continue their own professional development. Highly-educated individuals tend to stay in the child care field longer than those who achieve only the minimum required training. Educate yourself about programs that provide tuition reimbursement or other financial incentives that your staff members could access and share that information with your employees. Encourage your staff members to attend professional conferences (where they can learn a lot while bonding with their fellow employees) and pay their conference registration fee if possible.
The final, often-neglected, step is to simply make sure that your program truly has an atmosphere in which each staff member feels valued and respected. We often spend time in our programs teaching children how to problem-solve and make decisions, but then don't include our own staff in our own decision-making process. Providing each staff member an opportunity to have some sort of "ownership" in the program is invaluable; in addition to being free to you and providing you with potentially untapped resources. Perhaps your staff members could write articles for your newsletter, suggest agenda items for staff meetings, chair a project, or even come up with their own project they would like to implement. Let them be creative...improve your program....and become loyal, long-term employees in the process.