The Why & How of Retaining Child Care Staff & Subs

retaining child care staff

Retaining child care staff is even harder than finding/hiring staff according to many studies and reports.  Welcome to the 21st century.

There are many reasons that it’s difficult retaining child care staff:

  • Employee is looking for a better / easier job (“This is too hard”)
  • Employee is looking for more money (“My friends make a lot more than I do”)
  • Employee doesn’t want to work at all (“My mom gives me her debit card”)
  • Employee can’t get along with other staff members (“She thinks I’ll do her work”)
  • Employee doesn’t respect management (“I never get to take off when I want to”)
  • Employee doesn’t like the profession (“I didn’t know kids would be so much work”)
  • And on, and on, and on!

While I may or may not agree with these “reasons” doesn’t really matter.

They come, put on a great show when being interviewed.

They stay for a while, but seem to be less enthusiastic every week.

They send a text or leave a voice mail saying “I quit”.

And here we go again.

So you are at a crossroad.  Do you go through this scenario again and again and again – and accept it as the norm?

Or, do you make a significant change in the way you work with your employees – and fight to have them stay?

If I told you

Advertising, interviewing, orientating, training, watching an employee fade away takes 50 pounds of energy

And training, mentoring, empowering, watching an employee takes 15 pounds of energy

Which would you choose?

Let’s look at WHY we lose many of our staff members.  Here are some reasons I did not add to the original list above.

  • I am so bored doing the same thing every single day.
  • I never feel like I am getting ahead.
  • Would it kill my supervisor to say “thank you” once in a while?
  • When do I get to make a suggestion around here?
  • I have really tried, but I just cannot get along with my team member.
  • I feel like a robot – do the work but don’t make any decisions.
  • I have so much more to give, but no opportunity to give it.
  • Why don’t we ever have any fun around here?
  • I’d really love to learn how to manage behavior more effectively.
  • And on, and on, and on!

What would it mean to you if 50% of the staff members you lost left for the above reasons?  Can you take ownership of your staff leaving if these are the reasons?

Could these possibly be some of the same reasons you have left positions in the past?

So, if you assume that we may have some responsibility for losing staff members, WHAT can you do to fix this?

Here are just a few of my suggestions:  (really easy – don’t cost anything – everyone benefits)

  1. Find out how your employees feel about their employment with you.

You can’t really just ask “Are you happy here?” and get a good answer.  But you can ask things like “What can I do to make your job more fulfilling for you?” or “I’d love to spice up our center.  Can you give me some suggestions?”


  1. Interact with your employees more – get to know them.

You should have eye to eye contact every time you encounter them, and show them you are really looking at them.  Give them your time – it only takes seconds.


  1. Have a leadership / staff empowerment program in your center.

Your employees have so much to offer.  They run their own households, but we often give them very limited leeway in what they can do in the center.  This is incredible demoralizing for them.


Note:  Many times, owners/directors are fearful of empowering staff.  It’s because you are unsure of how to put limits on what they are empowered to do.  So, when you empower a staff member, tell them “I will expect you to do at least this much, but I don’t want you to go beyond this point at this time.”


  1. Mix things up.

Move your employees around in the center, even if it is only one day a month.  They will get perspective and experience in other skills and age groups.  A really important reason to do this:  (for example) a two year old teacher can go to a three year old class and see what more she might do with her two year olds to prepare them to be in the three year old class.


  1. Have FUN

Make work fun.  You may not be Google and have pool tables and video games for your staff, but you can certainly have pot luck lunches with a specific food group, or theme dress up for a particular decade.  Ask for suggestions from staff – or better yet, empower a FUN Leader on a rotating basis.


To sum this up, there are many things we can do to KEEP employees before they disengage and leave.  And look at the time you will save in not going through the whole hiring process again!

By the way, almost every study I’ve read says people do not leave for money.  The leave for lack of appreciation and engagement.    (Anyhow, most child care centers pay about the same.  Are they leaving to go work at Target?)