Last reviewed 17 February 2016

Good staff, retention of good staff and recruiting good staff are central to running a good provision. One of the main costs of running a provision is staff salaries and benefits, and recruiting and retaining good staff is a key management responsibility. Val Moore, small business and early years consultant, explains the importance of understanding the “push” and “pull” factors that could influence employees.

Why do people do what they do?

Many will stay with the status quo, until they encounter a “pull” or a “push”. Often it will be both, but not to the same degree.

People consider changing their jobs for a variety of reasons. A higher salary would be a “pull” reason. Dislike of their manager or colleagues would be a “push” factor.

There may be a mixture. Overall, some may quite like their jobs but they feel that they are not being challenged or developed in their roles (push) and, having read the Situations Vacant notices, feel there are better prospects for them elsewhere (pull).

More money is often a “pull” factor, but if a person enjoys his/her job and the extra money is not a lot, that person may settle for the status quo. Now while this may seem ok, for the employee that bit of extra money will be a niggling “pull” factor, possibly to the detriment of their work and possibly have a negative effect on their conversations with other staff members, making others feel discontented and this could possibly become a “push” factor.

While everyone would like a pay rise, with the additional costs faced by employers of pension contributions, the new living wage etc., competing on salary alone may be difficult. Consider what else would enhance the working environment.

Another “pull” factor may be that the employee thinks a new job would be a good strategic move. There may not be an increase pay incentive, but instead the opportunity to develop their careers and learn new skills.

Where one “push” factor may not be enough for the employee to change jobs (not feeling appreciated), a second “push” factor of not liking some of that person’s colleagues can combine these two, and that person hands in his or her notice.

Reversing this when recruiting, try to understand what the “push” and “pull” factors are on the prospective recruits.

Recent studies

There have been a number of studies over the past 5 years on reasons staff leave, or staff join. While these were not conducted within the childcare sector, people’s motivations are usually very similar.

Push factors

Typical push factors are:

  • perception of limited opportunities

  • lack of senior role models

  • excessive workload, especially attributed to bureaucratic and management inefficiencies

  • non-competitive rewards and recognition

  • lack of respect for personal life and desires.

Pull factors

Typical pull factors are:

  • a job offer with much greater compensation (salary package) and/or more decision-making powers

  • the desire to follow a life-long dream or vocation

  • family responsibilities, eg children, spouse and care for the elderly.

Women cited three main “pull” factors, which are:

  • increased salary package 42% (men 51%)

  • to accept the opportunity to develop new skills 35% (men 32%)

  • to pursue greater advancement opportunities 33% (men 30%).

Accept the “push” factors and work with them

While one must accept that “pull” factors exist and cannot always be countered, “push” factors should be more within the control of the employer.

Push factors may include (real or imaginary):

  • having a bad boss (this is the number 1 reason people are “pushed”)

  • feeling undervalued

  • bad relationship with management/colleagues

  • work is no longer fulfilling

  • no career development

  • lack of opportunity — this could be promotion, training, further experience

  • circumstances change and employer unwilling to accommodate an employee’s needs (eg change of hours to look after elderly relative)

  • lack of decision-making power — often accompanied by a manager who likes to micro-manage

  • passed over for promotion

  • lack of information/not being kept informed

  • not given sufficient or reasoned instruction

  • for new employees, the job was not as envisaged (or perhaps described)

  • bullying or intimidation

  • overall, things are just unfair.

No instant remedy

While there is no magic wand and each provision will be different in size, make-up, management style and location, you can listen, hold informal discussions and use staff appraisals effectively. This will help managers understand what motivates their staff, what causes them worry or upset, what their aspirations and desires are, and, of course, no two employees will be the same.

Talking with the mother of an employee at a provision, her daughter had really surprised her. The daughter had wanted to work in childcare since she was a teenager and never wavered from this. Seemingly not academically inclined, she left school as soon as she could and entered at a basic level, accepting the fact that she would have to work at least to NVQ level 2 and it had been expected she would always “just work with children”.

Well this young lady was obviously a late developer. She went on to take a degree and is now, in her early 30s, the manager of a large early years provision. Her mother said that she had never expected her to take so well to office work, spreadsheets, paperwork and documents. Her mother acknowledged that, in part, her daughter’s development was due to a nurturing and supportive manager who could see the potential this person possessed.

Just because employees were whatever they were, does not mean they stay that same way, with the same thoughts, the same abilities, and the same desires year after year. This is often how “push” factors develop. True to say that such employees may not recognise the change in themselves, but a good manager should.

While managers should understand individuals and help them develop, there also needs to be a group dimension. Little things lift spirits. A collective well done; cakes or sweets for no reason other than it is a nice thing to do. Occasionally brighten up the staff room with flowers. Keep the feel-good factor going.

Finally thinking back to the number 1 reason people leave their jobs, Dr Tavis Bradberry, business author has perhaps summed it up.

“Managers tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun, while ignoring the crux of the matter: people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers”.