3. Working conditions and well-being of early childhood education and care staff

Staff’s working conditions and well-being are key determinants of the capacity of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector to attract and retain good candidates in the profession and reduce turnover. With the demand for ECEC expanding in many countries, attracting and retaining skilled staff has become a challenge. Staff absences and shortages hinder the functioning of the sector in many countries. Results from the Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS Starting Strong) presented in the first volume indicate these are important barriers to leaders’ effectiveness and to staff’s participation in professional development (OECD, 2019[1]). Staff’s working conditions have an impact on their well-being, in particular on emotional well-being, as reflected in stress levels and exposure to burnout, which in turn might be a reason for some staff to leave the sector. Staff’s well-being also has an effect on their practices with children and their performance at work. Overall, staff working conditions and well-being can be important drivers of process quality.

TALIS Starting Strong includes information on many aspects of the working conditions of ECEC staff: working time, time allocated to different tasks, contractual status, satisfaction with salary, and the working environment, such as collaboration with colleagues and support received from leaders. The survey also includes questions on well-being, such as job satisfaction, and levels and sources of stress. This chapter presents the various components of the working conditions and well-being of staff in the ECEC sector and discusses how they vary across and within countries by characteristics of staff and centres.

Within countries, staff may face different working conditions or have different perceptions of their working conditions. For instance, research shows that less experienced ECEC staff are more prone to leave their jobs due to the working conditions, such as low salary, responsibilities and weak relationships with colleagues at the workplace (Bullough, Hall-Kenyon and MacKay, 2012[2]; Wells, 2015[3]). This chapter distinguishes between novice and experienced staff and considers other characteristics of staff, such as their age and role, to analyse how staff working conditions vary with these characteristics.

A large body of literature has put forward the deep and ongoing relationships between employees’ stress, physical health and sense of well-being. Work stress is a predictor of physical health and illnesses that are associated with lower well-being, reduced engagement and productivity at work, and lower participation in the workforce (Quick, Bennett and Blake Hargrove, 2014[4]). However, the literature also shows that positive workplace environments and engagement strategies can help workers to handle stress. This has been shown, in particular, in the context of schools for stress experienced by teachers (Bakker et al., 2007[5]). This chapter takes a specific look at the sources of stress reported by staff to analyse their main determinants, including both factors that generate stress and those that mitigate it. With this aim, this chapter builds on the “job demand and resource” models that have been widely used in the literature on occupational well-being to analyse the drivers of stress. This analysis serves to identify the main potential drivers of staff stress in each country and the policy options to improve staff working conditions and well-being.

This chapter aims to:

  • characterise the main aspects of the working conditions and well-being of staff in the ECEC sector and analyse how they vary according to staff and centre characteristics

  • analyse the main drivers of the various sources of stress included in TALIS Starting Strong through models that look at the balance between factors that enhance stress (job demands) and factors that mitigate it (job resources or rewards)

  • discuss the implications of stress and other dimensions of staff well-being on the motivations of staff to leave the profession and the quality of their practices with children and parents

  • discuss policy implications and policy levers to improve working conditions.

Opportunities for staff to develop their skills throughout their careers through high-quality in-service training and informal learning such as learning from peers are important aspects of staff working conditions. They are touched upon in this chapter, but discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. This chapter focuses on staff and leaves discussions on leaders’ working conditions and well-being for Chapter 4.

TALIS Starting Strong includes questions on staff working conditions and well-being. Several of these questions or items are interrelated and one way to deal with the complexity of the survey on these aspects is to build on the literature on job demands-resources/rewards models (Bakker and Demerouti, 2007[6]; 2016[7]). These models consider that the characteristics of the working environment can be divided into two main categories: job demands and job resources or rewards. Staff may experience challenging demands on the job (e.g. working with large groups of children), but can build on resources or rewards (e.g. support from leaders, adequate salary). The combination of these two forces drives staff stress.

Two types of similar models are generally used to explain job stress. The first, the demand-control model, considers that job stress is the result of a disturbance of the equilibrium between the demands employees are exposed to and the resources they have at their disposal. Job stress is caused by the combination of high job demands and low job control (or little professional autonomy). Employees who can decide themselves how to meet their job demands are less exposed to job stress (Karasek, 1979[8]). Another model, the effort-reward imbalance model, emphasises the reward, rather than the control of work. Job stress is the result of an imbalance between effort (job demands and the motivation to meet these demands) and reward (in terms of salary, esteem reward, and security or career opportunities) (Siegrist, 1996[9]). A lack of reciprocity between effort and reward can lead to stress. Interestingly, these models can help understand why similar job demands translate into different levels of stress across workers depending on other job demands and differences in resources or rewards workers may have to perform the job.

TALIS Starting Strong is well-suited to analyse staff well-being through a combination of the demand-control and the effort-reward models, as it includes information on job demands, resources and rewards as well as on various sources of stress, an important dimension of “emotional well-being”. A question captures the possible impact of well-being on staff’s health, although physical well-being is not included per se in the survey. However, the survey includes information on other aspects of well-being, such as staff sense of self-efficacy or their judgements of their capabilities to perform the work, which contributes to what can be called “cognitive well-being”. Finally, the survey also includes information on “social well-being”, such as staff’s perception of how their work is valued by others.

This chapter proposes an analytical framework to analyse the major aspects of staff working conditions, well-being and their implications, following the job demands-resources/rewards models (Figure 3.1). It also builds on the teachers’ well-being framework proposed for TALIS and the teacher questionnaire in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Viac and Fraser, 2020[10]). The various components of the working conditions can be thought of as either generating demands on staff (in grey) or resources and rewards to meet these demands (in blue). Job demands are defined as those physical, psychological, social or organisational aspects of the job that require sustained physical and/or psychological effort and are therefore associated with certain costs for individual staff (Demerouti et al., 2001[11]). Examples are high work pressure and emotionally demanding tasks, for instance those related to managing children’s behaviour. Job resources refer to those physical, psychological, social or organisational aspects of the job that enable workers to achieve goals and deal with or face job demands (Bakker and Demerouti, 2007[6]). Examples of job resources are opportunities for training (see Chapter 2), performance feedback and work autonomy. Examples of job rewards are salary, other conditions of the work contract and career progression

Job demands, resources and rewards, and their balance contribute to various dimensions of well-being, and emotional, cognitive and social well-being. Staff well-being influences the capacity of the sector to retain the workforce and therefore possible staff shortages, which in turn through a feedback loop, has an impact on staff working conditions by creating additional workload and barriers to find time for participating in training activities. ECEC staff with a high level of well-being are also more likely to develop high-quality interactions with children and parents or guardians and contribute to high process quality. Staff well-being is therefore an important determinant of the quality of ECEC.

The framework also draws on the literature on job quality, which has developed in parallel to the literature on well-being. Job quality generally refers to the aspects of employment that contribute to well-being. In particular, the OECD Job Quality Framework (Cazes, Hijzen and Saint-Martin, 2015[12]) identifies three objective, measurable dimensions of job quality: 1) earnings quality; 2) labour market security; and 3) the quality of the working environment. Other studies have also highlighted future prospects and career progression as well as job content as important, additional aspects of job quality (Clark, 2015[13]).

The following sections discuss major aspects of working conditions: earnings, job security and career prospects, workload, and the quality of the working environment at the ECEC centre. These aspects are shaped by the institutions and governance of the sector as well as by a number of factors at the centre level, including characteristics of the centre (e.g. its size and financial and material resources) and leadership. As multiple factors influence working conditions, they vary both across and within countries.

To analyse how working conditions vary within countries, the following characteristics are considered throughout the chapter:

  • Staff characteristics: 1) role (assistants or teachers); 2) experience (novice staff with up to three years of experience and experienced staff with more than three years’ experience); 3) educational attainment as captured by the ISCED level of the staff’s initial education and training; and 4) being in a full-time or part-time job.

  • Centre characteristics: 1) size (small centres with 50 children or less versus large centres with 100 children or more); 2) type of management (public or private status of the organisation responsible for the day-to-day management of the centre, regardless of the ownership or funding sources).

For any occupation, salaries are an important reward of workers’ efforts to do their job in the best possible way. The ECEC sector is generally known to propose relatively low salaries compared to other levels of education or jobs requiring a similar level of education and training (OECD, 2019[14]).

In all countries, a majority of staff indicate low satisfaction with the salary they receive for their work: from 61% of pre-primary staff in Turkey to 90% in Iceland answer they “strongly disagree” or “disagree” with being satisfied with their salary (Figure 3.2). Related to this finding, when staff are asked to indicate the priority for the ECEC sector if the budget were to be increased, a large majority of staff in all countries except to some extent in Norway indicate improving salaries as being of “high importance”. Among the other priorities considered in the survey, the largest percentages of staff indicating improving salaries as a priority are observed in Iceland, Japan and Korea at pre-primary level and in Israel for centres for children under age 3.

In several countries (Chile, Iceland, Israel, Korea and Norway in pre-primary settings), novice staff show a higher level of satisfaction with their salary than more experienced staff, which may indicate that the entry salary is in line with expectations but is not seen to increase enough with experience or career progression, as for secondary education teachers (OECD, 2020[15]) (Table C.3.1). Satisfaction with salary varies with educational attainment, with more educated staff being less satisfied with their salary in Denmark (with low response rates) for both levels of education, in Israel for centres for children under age 3 and in Turkey at the pre-primary level. However, in Israel for pre-primary staff, more educated staff are more satisfied with salary, which is aligned with the fact that teachers indicate a higher level of satisfaction with their salary than assistants. In contrast, in Denmark (with low response rates) for both levels of education, assistants report a higher level of satisfaction. In some countries, staff show different levels of satisfaction with salary depending on the centre’s type of management. In Israel and Japan at pre-primary level and in Norway for centres for children under age 3, staff in privately managed centres are more satisfied with their salary, while in Korea, it is the case for staff in publicly managed centres (Table C.3.1).

Job security is an important reward for staff’s work. According to TALIS Starting Strong, except in Korea, a majority of staff have permanent contracts, which may offer them a feeling of job security (OECD, 2019[1]). However, in all countries except Japan, novice staff are less likely to have a permanent contract than experienced staff (Table C.3.2). In several countries, assistants are more likely than teachers to be on a temporary contract and in many participating countries, part-time staff are also more likely to be on a temporary contract, which suggests that sources of instability and precariousness accumulate on the same staff members.

Job insecurity for some categories of staff and the prevalence of the private sector in some countries (see OECD (2019[1])) mean that groups of ECEC staff could potentially be exposed to risks of unemployment, as ECEC centres were closed as a consequence of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020. While governments have generally stepped in to avoid wage losses for ECEC staff, the crisis has also highlighted the fragility of the sector and the exposure of staff to risks of unemployment in such a context (see Chapter 1).

Opportunities for career progression are another important aspect of working conditions, which can affect well-being at work and job satisfaction. Jobs in the ECEC sector offer limited possibilities in this area. Like in the school sector, traditional careers are often “flat”, with few opportunities for advancement or diversification (OECD, 2019[17]). In countries where two distinct roles – assistants and teachers – exist, career progression can consist in changing role, but the qualifications requirements can be an obstacle. For teachers, the only possibilities to grow in their careers may be to take up leadership responsibilities in the ECEC sector or become a primary education teacher, as this occupation is often associated with higher wages. However, staff members who do not change role during their careers may have the same set of responsibilities from the first to the last day of their career.

TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their most likely reason to leave the ECEC staff role, which gives information on the type of vertical or horizontal occupational mobility that staff might consider. Retirement is the most likely reason to leave the role reported by the highest percentages of staff in all countries except Germany (for pre-primary level only), Iceland, Japan and Korea (Table C.3.3). The largest percentages of staff report leaving due to health-related issues in Germany (pre-primary) and Korea, family reasons in Japan, and working in a different job not in the ECEC sector in Iceland. Hence, except in Iceland, most staff expect to spend their entire career as an ECEC teacher or assistant. On the one hand, this reflects the high level of engagement of staff; on the other, it highlights the limited possibilities for career progression that they envisage.

As expected, the percentage of staff who indicate retirement as the most likely reason to leave the role increases with age (Figure 3.3). This suggests that younger staff in particular look for career progression – either in or outside the ECEC sector. The most likely reason to leave the role on average for pre-primary staff up to 29 years old is to return as a student to an education programme, reflecting that young staff seek further qualifications for career progression. On average for pre-primary education, 13% of the middle-aged staff indicate taking a different job not in the ECEC sector as the most likely reason to leave the role, which is higher than the percentage indicating becoming an ECEC centre leader, working in an education job not in an ECEC centre or becoming a primary education teacher.

Results from TALIS Starting Strong suggest that in some countries, staff who envisage a career progression look outside the ECEC sector and to a lesser extent in the education sector. When inactivity (retiring or family responsibilities) and health-related issues are excluded, the largest percentage of staff indicates “working in a different job not in the ECEC sector” as the most likely reason to leave the role in several countries (Denmark [with low response rates], Iceland, Japan, Korea, and Norway for both levels of education) (Figure 3.4). In contrast, in Chile and Turkey for pre-primary staff and Germany and Israel for both levels of education, a relatively large percentage of staff envisage a career inside the education sector. Becoming an ECEC centre leader is the most likely reason to leave the current role for less than 2% of staff in Japan, but for up to 15% in Turkey. In Chile, Denmark (for both levels of education, with low response rates), Israel (for both levels of education) and Korea, more than 10% of staff indicate working in an education job not in an ECEC centre as the most likely reason to leave. In most countries, close to or less than 5% of staff indicate becoming a primary education teacher as the most likely reason to leave the job, but the percentage is higher in Norway for both levels of education and in Israel for centres for children under age 3.

Opportunities for career progression depend on staff characteristics. In most countries, of staff who indicate becoming an ECEC centre leader as the most likely reason to leave the job, a higher share have a higher level of experience, a higher share are teachers than assistants, and more staff have a higher level of education (Table C.3.5). In several countries, teachers are more likely than assistants to indicate “working in an education job not in an ECEC centre” as the most likely reason to leave (Table C.3.6).

Workload can be an important source of stress in any job. In the ECEC sector, staff report stress related to the time demands of childcare, as well to the many non-teaching tasks, such as administrative work (OECD, 2019[1]; Kelly and Berthelsen, 1995[18]; Moriarty et al., 2001[19]). Some studies suggest that a heavy workload can lead to a lower quality of interactions between ECEC staff and children (de Schipper, Riksen-Walraven and Geurts, 2007[20]).

TALIS Starting Strong does not include a question on overall workload, but several questions provide information on this topic. The survey asks staff about the number of hours spent in total on tasks related to the job at the ECEC centre, including time spent on all tasks, even if they are performed during evenings and weekends. The number of hours worked at the centre by staff working full time can be an indication of workload. There is variation across countries, with staff working more hours on average in Korea and Japan, which may partly come from differences across countries in working hour regulations (Figure 3.5). The number of hours also varies quite a lot within countries, which indicates that working hour regulations are not the only factor influencing hours worked and that time spent on work outside the centre also contributes. This is particularly the case in Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea and Turkey, where a quarter of staff work substantially longer hours than the average, which may indicate that some staff are exposed to a high workload in these countries. In Japan and to some extent Korea, novice staff work more hours while in Iceland, novice staff work less hours (Table C.3.7).

The allocation of hours on different tasks and in particular on tasks with and without children is an important aspect of the workload of ECEC staff. Multitasking environments can increase workload, especially cognitive workload, as the proportion of a person’s cognitive resources used increases with multiple job demands. ECEC staff can have different tasks to perform, perhaps more than in schools where roles are generally well differentiated across categories of staff. Having time both with and without children is important for staff well-being. As working with children is the core of an ECEC job, spending time with children rather than on other types of tasks may bring well-being to staff. However, staff also need to have time without children to prepare their work with children and do some other types of work, such as exchanging with parents and colleagues or documenting children’s development and learning.

TALIS Starting Strong gives information about the number of hours staff spend in contact with children and the number of hours without children can be deduced as the difference between the total number of hours and the number of hours spent with children, which can include hours worked outside the ECEC centre. On average, staff spend from 7 hours in Iceland to 18 hours in Korea per week without children, which represents 19-39% of the total working hours (see Figure 3.5). Staff spend the longest hours with children in Chile, Germany (for both levels of education) and Japan. There are large variations within countries that are partly linked to staff role: in countries where the distinction between teachers and assistants can be made, teachers spend more time without children than assistants (Table C.3.7).

In countries where staff work many hours (Chile, Japan and Korea), this is partly driven by the number of hours spent without children. The survey includes a question to staff on the amount of time they spend on a range of activities performed with no contact with children. Among these activities, the four of them for which the largest percentages of staff report spending at least 30% of their time without children on average across countries at pre-primary level are: 1) documenting children’s development, well-being and learning; 2) participating in centre management, staff meetings and general administrative work; 3) laundry, tidying-up, cleaning, shopping or cooking tasks; and 4) individual planning or preparing play and/or learning activities. The first two are mentioned by large shares of staff as being important sources of stress (see OECD (2019[1]) and section below). In Chile and Korea, these activities seem to contribute to significant time spent with no children, which is high in these two countries, as more than 20% of staff spend at least 30% of the time with no children on some of these activities (Figure 3.6). Tasks differ by role, with teachers being less involved than assistants in laundry and cleaning or cooking tasks (Table C.3.9). In most countries, a larger percentage of teachers than of assistants spend large percentages of their time without children on documenting children’s development and individual planning, but assistants also devote time to these tasks. In Chile and in Germany (for both levels of education), the allocation of time spent without children across tasks does not seem to differ much between teachers and assistants, while in Israel and Korea at pre-primary level and Norway for both levels of education, roles are more differentiated.

The day-to-day working environment that staff experience at the ECEC centre matters for their well-being. In particular, interactions between staff and colleagues and staff and leaders, performance feedback, and the autonomy staff have to organise their work can help them cope with the demands they face. This, in turn, can have implications on their willingness to remain in the profession. There is evidence that these aspects are important resources that can buffer the impact of high job demands on stress and burnout (Bakker and Demerouti, 2007[6]; Demerouti et al., 2001[11]). A study on the Head Start programme in the United States found that newly hired teachers were more likely to quit if they did not have a good relationship with their supervisor or did not like their work environment (Wells, 2015[3]).

The early literature assumed a top-down perspective in which management and the human resources department determine the working environment for their employees by setting targets, describing tasks and providing resources. More recent approaches argue also that employees might proactively change their work tasks in order to make their work more meaningful. Employees can directly affect their working environment. TALIS Starting Strong provides information on the working environment as it is perceived by staff. Staff working with the same centre leader may, for instance, report different levels of autonomy or different feelings about support from their leader.

Having some autonomy at work and control over decisions is important to face demanding situations and a heavy workload. ECEC jobs can entail substantial autonomy, especially for teachers, who have a leading role in the choice of activities, practices and pedagogical approaches with children and groups of children as long as they are aligned with national curriculum frameworks or guidelines. However, staff can also lack room for manoeuvre on many other aspects that are regulated at the centre or country levels. Work in ECEC centres also generally entails important routines that determine the sequencing of staff activities throughout the workday, which can either provide guidance to staff or limit their capacity to optimally manage their work demands.

TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about whether “the ECEC centre leader encourages all staff to have a say on important decisions”, which is part of distributed leadership (see Chapter 4). From 73% in Japan to 95% in Israel (for pre-primary) “agree” or “strongly agree” that leaders encourage all staff to have a say in important decisions, with little variation by staff characteristics (Figure 3.7). However, only in Israel (for both levels of education) and Turkey do a majority of staff “strongly agree” that leaders encourage all staff to have a say in important decisions. Except in Chile, where a larger percentage of assistants than teachers report a high level of agreement, there is no significant difference across roles (Table C.3.10). The level of control over decisions varies according to the type of management in the centre: it is higher in publicly managed centres in Chile and Korea at pre-primary level and in Germany and Norway in centres for children under age 3.

Collaborative practices are important to share knowledge among staff, ensure continuity and consistency in approaches within the centre, and support staff in their work. Compared to some other professions outside the education sector, working in an ECEC centre can be seen as offering fewer opportunities to work in teams, but results from TALIS Starting Strong 2018 suggest a different picture. The first volume showed that in all countries, several staff members work with the same group of children on the same day: from five staff members on average in Germany in centres for children under age 3 to ten staff members in Korea (OECD, 2019[1]). Working with the same group of children requires co-operation across staff members. In several countries, teachers also generally work with assistants, which also requires good collaborative practices.

Several studies have identified collaboration as a learning activity, which can lead to learning outcomes that can be more connected to everyday situations in the workplace compared to what is learnt for a more general context (Kyndt et al., 2016[21]). In particular, several studies have found that collaboration and interactions with colleagues can help develop pedagogical skills. This, in turn, can help staff develop their sense of self-efficacy and reduce stress.

TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their participation in a number of activities involving collaboration with colleagues, such as “providing feedback to other staff about their practices”, “engaging in discussions on approaches to children’s development” or “planned activities”, or “working with others to discuss the evaluation of children” (see Chapter 2). There are large variations across countries and activities in the frequency with which staff engage in collaborative practices (Table C.3.11). On average in participating countries for pre-primary education, exchanging learning or pedagogical materials with colleagues and providing feedback to other ECEC staff about their practices are less frequent than the other activities.

Engagement in collaborative practices also varies within countries. When the various collaborative practices are combined, in several countries they are more frequent for staff working full time, for staff with a permanent contract and for staff with a higher level of initial education. For countries where the distinction between teachers and assistants can be made, teachers report collaborating more frequently than assistants in Israel and Korea for pre-primary education, and Norway for both levels of education. Novice teachers report less frequent involvement in collaborative practices only in Iceland at the pre-primary level and in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway for centres for children under age 3 (Table C.3.12).

Among the various collaborative practices considered in the survey, three concern practices that relate to specific sources of stress considered in the survey and can act as a resource to mitigate the related source of stress (see the section on “The relationship between sources of stress and working conditions”):

  • engaging in discussions about approaches to children’s development, well-being and learning for stress coming from being responsible for children’s development

  • engaging in discussions about the development or needs of specific children for stress coming from accommodating children with special needs

  • working with other staff to discuss the evaluation of children’s development and well-being for stress coming from having too much work related to documenting children’s development.

There are large variations across countries in the frequency of engagement in these collaborative practices, with staff in Iceland, Japan and Norway making frequent use of them (Figure 3.8). In contrast, in Chile, Korea and Turkey, staff report less frequent use of these practices. These practices are also linked to the role of staff, with assistants being less likely than teachers to engage in some of these collaborative practices in most countries (Table C.3.13).

Leaders play an important role in the day-to-day working environment in the ECEC sector. TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their overall level of satisfaction with the support they receive from their leaders. There are large variations across countries in the overall feeling of support from leaders (Figure 3.9). From 25% in Iceland to 72% in Korea of staff report that they need more support from their leader.

In all of the participating countries, there are no statistically significant differences between novice and more experienced staff in the need to receive more support from leaders. In Chile and Germany at pre-primary level, assistants are more likely than teachers to report needing more support (Table C.3.14).

While staff in some countries report a need for more support from their leaders, when asked about their view on specific roles of leaders, the feeling is more positive. In all countries and for both levels of education, a large majority of staff “agree” or “strongly agree” that ECEC leaders, for instance, encourage co-operation among staff to develop new ideas in their practices, ensure that staff take responsibility for improving their practices and ensure that staff performance is managed effectively (see Chapter 4). When comparing perceptions of ECEC centres’ leaders on aspects of their work, staff who would like more support from their leaders have a less favourable perception of all aspects of their leader’s work than staff who do not report needing more support, including, for instance, of the need for leaders to provide a clear vision, to encourage co-operation or to ensure that ECEC staff’s performance is managed effectively (Figure 3.10).

Receiving feedback from others can also be an important source of learning for staff and a way to address some challenging situations on the job. As mentioned above, providing feedback to other ECEC staff about their practice is not very common, with around a third of staff across countries engaging in it less often than monthly or not at all (see Chapter 2). This result comes from differences in roles: in all countries where the distinction between teachers and assistants can be made except in Germany at pre-primary level, teachers are more likely than assistants to provide feedback (Table C.2.8).

TALIS Starting Strong also gives indication on the frequency of external inspections of process quality, which target staff and their interactions with children. These inspections can help staff improve their practices and increase their self-efficacy if they lead to discussions with staff and recommendations on how to adjust practices, but they can also be a source of stress if they lead to sanctions. The frequency of this type of inspection varies greatly across countries, from around 80% of leaders in Israel at both levels of education and in Korea reporting receiving external inspection on process quality at least once a year to less than 50% in Germany and Norway for both levels of education (Figure 3.11). Even if the centre is inspected, all staff are not necessarily inspected, which means that in some countries, staff receive external feedback on their practices quite rarely.

Overall, this section has shown that ECEC staff working conditions are uneven, both across and within countries. Staff working conditions can be improved through policies that would involve some cost, such as improving salaries or career progression, but also by policies that are not necessarily associated with direct costs, such as improving the working environment through increased collaboration across staff, more autonomy at work and better feedback on work.

Well-being at work captures the state of being happy and satisfied at work, feeling comfortable with the tasks to perform, and realising one’s potential for the benefit of staff and of the organisation or firm (Fisher, 2014[22]). There is no common definition across fields of research, but the idea that well-being is a multidimensional concept generally prevails. Following the teachers’ well-being framework proposed for TALIS and the teacher questionnaire in PISA (Viac and Fraser, 2020[10]), TALIS Starting Strong can be thought to capture well-being through three main areas:

  • emotional well-being, which captures, on the positive side, staff satisfaction and enjoyment with the job, and on the negative side, staff stress, anxiety and other mental health problems

  • cognitive well-being, or the degree to which staff feel comfortable and confident in performing the various tasks involved in their role

  • social well-being, which comes from the quality and depth of working relationships with stakeholders and relates to feelings of being recognised for the job and valued by others.

These dimensions are closely related. This holistic approach to well-being follows a similar framework used by the OECD (Borgonovi and Pál, 2016[23]) and the literature on occupational well-being.

Good mental health is an important aspect of well-being as it can help to prevent exhaustion and health problems due to stress at work (e.g. headaches), but also disengagement with work and willingness to leave the job, or lower performance at work. TALIS Starting Strong does not ask staff about their overall level of stress or symptoms of health problems due to stress. However, the survey asks staff about whether and to what extent various aspects of their work are a source of stress. This information can help countries identify the major sources of stress for staff and their drivers. This, in turn, can help put policies in place that stimulate favourable work environments in which ECEC staff can interact with young children and families in a more positive manner, while reducing turnover rates and improving process quality.

The various sources of stress included in the survey can be categorised into three major areas: 1) stress related to workload outside hours spent with children; 2) stress related to workload coming from insufficient human or financial resources; and 3) stress due to work with children and related responsibilities. For all countries at the pre-primary level (Table 3.1) and for staff working with children under age 3 (Table 3.2), stress related to workload due to insufficient human or financial resources is a major source for stress. Workload stress coming from work outside hours spent with children is an important source of stress in Korea and also, albeit to a lesser extent, in all other countries except Iceland and Norway at pre-primary level and in Israel and Norway for settings for children under age 3.

Working with children and job-related responsibilities is reported as a high source of stress by smaller percentages of staff in all countries except Israel for both levels of education, particularly for managing the classroom/playgroup/group, and for Korea concerning keeping up with changing requirements from authorities and addressing parent or guardian concerns. This contrasts with the findings from TALIS for lower secondary teachers, who broadly indicate that “being held responsible for students’ achievement” is a top source of stress (OECD, 2020[15]).

Within these broad categories, “A lack of resources”, “Having too many children in my classroom/playgroup/group”, “Having too much work related to documenting children’s development” and “Having too much administrative work to do” are important sources of stress for large percentages of staff in many countries and are studied in further detail in this chapter.

These patterns are even clearer for staff working with children under age 3. In Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Norway, less than 10% of staff consider that activities related to being responsible of children is an important source of stress. A lack of resources and too many children in the group is a high source of stress for more than 20% of staff in all four of the participating countries in centres for children under age 3 (Table 3.2).

In all countries, staff working with a larger group of children are more likely to report this as a source of stress (the difference is not statistically significant for Norway at pre-primary level or for Denmark for centres for children under age 3, with low response rates) (Table C.3.17). In several countries, novice staff and assistants are less likely to report this from working with a large group of children as being important. Centre characteristics also play an important role in the likelihood of reporting this source of stress. In several countries, staff in large centres are more likely to report high levels of stress from having too many children in the group. In some countries, it is also more the case in publicly managed centres.

A lack of resources, including financial support, material resources as well as ECEC staff also appears to be an important source of stress for large percentages of staff. This source of stress is linked to centre characteristics (Table C.3.18). In several countries (Chile; Iceland; Israel for pre-primary; Japan; Norway for both levels of education; and Denmark, with low response rates, for pre-primary) staff in publicly managed centres more often report this as a high source of stress than those working in privately managed centres. In some countries, it is also the case for staff with more than three years of experience compared to novice staff.

Too much work related to documenting children’s development is also an important source of stress for large percentages of staff. In several countries, staff with more than three years of experience report this more frequently, as do teachers compared to assistants, and staff working more hours, and particularly staff spending more hours of work without children (Table C.3.19). Similar patterns hold for staff who are stressed by having too much administrative work to do (Table C.3.20). These results suggest that work done outside of time with children and not linked to the preparation of work with children tends to increase the overall amount of time without children and become a source of stress.

Overall satisfaction of staff with their job is another important indicator of staff emotional well-being. TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their general level of satisfaction with the profession through their level of agreement with the statement “All in all, I am satisfied with my job”. Staff are also asked about their satisfaction with the current work environment through their level of agreement with “I enjoy working at this ECEC centre”.

Overall, staff in all countries show a high level of satisfaction with the profession and their current job (Figure 3.12 and Figure 3.13). In all countries, a minority of staff “strongly disagree” or “disagree” with the two statements. Staff in Japan and Korea report a lower level of satisfaction than in other countries. There are large variations across countries in the percentages of staff who “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their job, from 18% in Japan and Korea to 69% in Israel for pre-primary education. Strong agreement with satisfaction with the work at the current ECEC centre is slightly higher.

Overall job satisfaction (“All in all, I am satisfied with my job”) does not vary much according to staff characteristics and remains high for most staff (Table C.3.22). However, the number of years of experience makes a difference in some countries. Experienced staff report a higher level of job satisfaction than novice ones in Iceland and Japan, while the opposite is true for Korea and in Norway for staff working with children under age 3. In Korea, assistants are more likely than teachers to be satisfied with their job.

Cognitive well-being generally refers to the degree to which people are able to take up new information and to concentrate on their work (Van Horn et al., 2004[24]). TALIS Starting Strong asks staff about their sense of self-efficacy, or their own judgement on their capacity to do the work, through questions on the extent to which they feel they can help and support children in a number of ways. This is one aspect of cognitive well-being. Staff with higher self-efficacy feel more confident in their work, which can reduce their stress and help achieve better outcomes (Dicke et al., 2018[25]).

Self-efficacy is considered in the occupational health psychology literature as a personal resource, which can have a direct positive effect on work engagement. In addition, self-efficacy can buffer the undesirable impact of job demands on stress. Further research discusses the fact that personal resources positively influence work engagement, and that work engagement has a positive impact on future job resources. Individuals who are motivated and engaged create their own resources (e.g. autonomy, feedback, support) over time (Hobfoll, 2001[26]). Overall, the direction of causality remains an open question: self-efficacy may act as a personal resource that adds to other job resources and mitigates stress, but it is also possible that self-efficacy simply mediates the positive influence of motivation on other job resources.

Staff levels of self-efficacy vary across areas and countries (see Chapter 2). On average across countries in pre-primary education, staff show high levels of self-efficacy in supporting children’s development, learning and well-being, including helping children to interact with each other, providing all children with a feeling of security or calming children who are upset for both levels of education (Table 3.3. and Table 3.4). Staff show a lower level of self-efficacy in working with a diversity of children, like supporting the development of children from a disadvantaged background and adapting their work to individual child needs. In all countries, they report the lowest level of self-efficacy for the use of digital technology. As ECEC settings increasingly accommodate a diversity of children and are being exposed to digital technologies, these results point to the need to develop policies to raise the skills and confidence of staff in these areas.

Differences across countries mostly reflect differences in the way staff answer these questions due to a cultural bias, with staff in Japan and to some extent Korea reporting a low level of self-efficacy for all aspects of their work, while staff in Turkey and to some extent Chile tend to report a higher level of self-efficacy. When areas of self-efficacy are ranked within countries (as indicated by colours in Table 3.3 and Table 3.4), only small differences emerge.

Social well-being involves positive relationships with others, feeling of social contribution and social integration (Fisher, 2014[22]). In the ECEC sector, the way staff feel valued by others, such as by parents and guardians, children, and society are important aspects of their well-being.

From 75% of staff in Israel for pre-primary to 31% in Japan feel valued by society (Table C.3.25). Staff with a lower educational attainment agree more than staff with a higher educational attainment that ECEC staff are valued by society in Chile, Israel and Turkey for pre-primary, Norway for centres for children under age 3, and Denmark (with low response rates) for both levels of education (Figure 3.14). This finding suggests that staff who have invested in higher education feel that the additional resources and efforts related to this investment are not acknowledged by society. Related to this, assistants are more likely than teachers to report that ECEC staff are valued by society in Chile, and in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway for both levels of education. Years of experience makes a difference in many countries: in Iceland, Israel, Japan and Korea at pre-primary level, and in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway for staff working with children under age 3, a significantly lower percentage of experienced staff report that they feel valued by society compared to novice staff (Table C.3.25). These results to some extent mirror those found for satisfaction with salary and suggest that salary and social status go hand in hand.

Feeling valued by parents or guardians can be another important driver of staff well-being, as staff often have regular interactions with parents. In all countries, most staff consider they are highly valued by parents, from 63% in Japan to 99% in both educational levels in Norway (OECD, 2019[1]). Feeling valued by parents varies with staff characteristics. In Germany for staff working with children under age 3 and in Japan, a smaller number of novice staff report that they feel valued by parents compared to staff with more years of experience. A smaller share of assistants report they feel valued by parents than teachers in Israel and Denmark (with low response rates) for pre-primary centres and in Norway for centres under age 3 (Table C.3.26).

Among the various dimensions of well-being, a key one is staff’s stress at work, which is linked to engagement with work, risk of burnout and motivation to leave the profession. This section investigates the main drivers of stress for ECEC staff with the view to inform policies. As the ECEC sector faces specific problems in attracting candidates and retaining staff while the sector is expanding in many countries, putting in place policies to mitigate the various sources of stress can be an important objective for government.

Many studies over the past three decades have shown that job characteristics and working conditions can have a profound impact on stress at work. The literature generally considers job demands such as a high work pressure, emotional demands and role ambiguity, that may lead to sleeping problems, exhaustion and other health problems (Halbesleben and Buckley, 2004[27]). In contrast, job resources and rewards such as social support, performance feedback and autonomy can help staff cope with high demand, motivate them to learn more and remain engaged in their work (Demerouti et al., 2001[11]; Taris and Feij, 2004[28]). Job stress comes from the disturbance of the equilibrium between the demands staff are exposed to and the resources and rewards they have at their disposal.

Staff in ECEC engage in a lot of cognitive and emotional work. They face high accountability and important pressure to complete daily routines, administrative and documentation work, engage with others (parents, guardians and children), while constantly being required to suppress a number of feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration and irritation. Job demands are not necessarily negative, but they may turn into sources of stress when meeting those demands requires a lot of effort and resources to meet these demands are not available. The sections above have shown that not all staff are satisfied by the support they receive from their leaders and that collaborative practices, which can bring support from colleagues, are not always widespread. At the same time, staff consistently report a lack of financial and material resources.

Questions from TALIS Starting Strong on the sources of stress reveals the aspects of staff work that can be the most challenging to them. They include working with large groups of children; working with children with special needs; having extra work to do aside from working with children, such as documenting children’s development and doing administrative work. TALIS Starting Strong includes information on both the demands faced by staff and the resources and rewards they get to perform the work (see Figure 3.1).

Sources of stress could be limited by reducing group size, relieving staff from administrative work and from documenting children’s development, or by providing more resources to centres and staff. However, many countries face important budget and recruitment constraints and alleviating these sources of stress cannot be easily addressed. Some aspects of the work, such as documenting children’s development, may create stress for staff, but are needed for the quality of ECEC. The sources of stress that are considered as important by the largest percentages of staff gives a first indication to countries where to place their priorities. In addition, the analysis below attempts to explain major sources of stress by a combination of job demands and job resources or rewards to highlight the major factors that are linked to stress in each country and for several sources of stress.

The analysis considers job demands and resources or rewards specific to each source of stress as well as those that are common to many tasks on the job (Table 3.5). Each source of stress is related through regression analyses to job demands, resources and rewards, as well as to control variables of staff and centre characteristics together in the same model. Hence, all associations between reporting stress in a particular area and, for instance, a job demand, takes into account all other job demands and job resources as well as staff characteristics. As pointed out for similar studies, since estimates are based on self-reported measures of job demands and resources as well as self-reported outcomes, the statistical relationships between constructs may be inflated. Therefore, results need to be considered with care.

The goal of this analysis is to assess the main factors, job demands, and job resources or rewards that drive the various sources of stress. It identifies cross-country patterns, as well as for each country the factors that play important roles and can therefore be targeted by policies. This section discusses the drivers of four sources of stress: 1) having too many children in the classroom/playgroup/group; 2) accommodating children with special needs; 3) having too much administrative work to do; and 4) having too much work related to documenting children’s development.

Having too many children in the classroom/playgroup/group is reported as an important source of stress by the largest percentages of staff in all countries except Japan, which is, however, a country where staff work with large groups of children. The number of children in the target group is unsurprisingly a major driver of this source of stress in all countries except in Norway for pre-primary staff and in Denmark (with low response rates) for centres for children under age 3 (Table 3.6). This means that, in most countries, after accounting for resources and rewards that staff can benefit from, as well as other job demands that may add to the burden, staff working with larger target groups are still more likely to report being stressed by having too many children in the target group. In contrast, in Norway (for pre-primary) and in Denmark (with low response rates, for centres for children under age 3), the set of job resources and rewards included in the analysis appears to buffer the effect of working with larger groups of children on stress.

In terms of job demands, in Chile, Israel (both levels of education) and Japan, working with a high share of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes also contributes to this source of stress, in addition to the demand related to the size of the group. In terms of the resources that can mitigate this source of stress, self-efficacy in adapting work to child needs mitigates stress in several countries. Satisfaction with salary acts as a job reward in several countries and makes stress due to working with many children around 50% less likely in most countries. Receiving support from leaders also seems to be an important resource for staff in helping them work with large groups. Having received training in classroom/playgroup/group management, either as part of pre- or in-service training, buffers stress from working with large groups of children only in Korea (Table C.3.27). In Japan, where staff generally work with large groups of children, those who work with a number of children in the target group in the top quarter compared to the bottom quarter are ten times more likely to report stress from this source. However, receiving support from leaders and satisfaction with salary mitigate this stress. In Iceland and Israel for pre-primary education, where too many children in the group is the number one ranked source of stress, self-efficacy does not appear to buffer the effect of working with many children, suggesting that policies to support self-efficacy such as through training and informal learning (see Chapter 2) could help. In Norway, where staff who work with a larger group of children are not more likely to report stress from the size of the group, self-efficacy, support from the leader and satisfaction with salary all act as stress buffers.

Accommodating children with special needs is a major source of stress for around 10% or more of pre-primary staff. It is also an area for which staff indicate that they need training. In most countries, staff who work with a larger share of children with special needs in the target group are more likely to report this as an important source of stress (Table 3.7. This suggests that the set of job resources included in the analysis are insufficient to buffer the effect of working with children with special needs on stress. In Japan and Turkey, a large number in the target group adds to the stress coming from having children with special needs in the target group. In most countries, staff who are satisfied by the support they receive from the ECEC centre leader are around 50% less likely to report this source of stress. Training to work with children with special needs increases the likelihood of stress to work with children with special needs in Germany (centres for children under age 3) and Korea. These findings suggest that the training that staff have received is not fully effective in buffering the stress coming from working with children with special needs, although training may also raise staff awareness of the difficulties involved in supporting these children. Likewise, satisfaction with salary acts as a buffer only in Iceland and in Israel for staff in centres for children under age 3. In contrast, self-efficacy in adapting work to child needs mitigates this source of stress in a number of countries.

Having too much work related to documenting children’s development is an important source of stress for large percentages of staff in Chile, Denmark (for pre-primary, with low response rates), Germany (for both levels of education), Israel (for pre-primary), Korea and Turkey (Table 3.8). In several countries, staff who, as part of their activities outside of work with children, spend a large percentage of their work time on documenting children’s development report more of this type of stress. Time spent without children, which includes time spent on documenting children’s development, but also on other activities, also add to this source of stress. Job resources or rewards that act as a buffer are similar to those for other sources of stress, such as support from leaders and satisfaction with salary. In contrast, self-efficacy in monitoring and observing children’s development and the inclusion of monitoring children’s development in pre- and/or in-service training do not mitigate this source of stress, except in Germany for pre-primary staff and Denmark for staff in centres for children under age 3 (with low response rates). These results could point to lack of efficiency of this type of training or the fact that having the time to perform these tasks prevails.

Having too much administrative work to do is one of the main sources of stress in Chile, Japan and Korea and concerns more than 10% of staff in all countries except in Iceland (for pre-primary), and Israel and Norway for centres for children under age 3 (Table 3.9. In several countries, staff who spend more time on centre management, staff meetings and general administrative tasks are more likely to report this as a source of stress, which suggests that they do not have enough resources to buffer the effect of this aspect of their work on stress. Having a lot children in the group also seems to contribute to this source of stress, as working with children and on administrative tasks cannot be done at the same time. For the same reason, a larger percentage of time without children tends to increase this source of stress. Staff would, in fact, need more time without children to buffer this source of stress. In Chile, where this source of stress is important for large percentages of staff, having only a small percentage of time without children adds to this source of stress. In Japan and Korea, where this source of stress also ranks high, satisfaction with salary mitigates this source of stress. In Iceland, where only 4% of staff report this as an important source of stress, support from leaders makes this source of stress half as likely, and novice teachers are also less likely to report this source of stress, even after accounting for the fact that novice staff spend less time without children than experienced staff (Table C.3.30). These findings could suggest that administrative work is attributed to experienced staff or that novice staff are more efficient in using technology for administrative tasks.

This analysis points to important factors that can buffer sources of stress: self-efficacy, support from leaders and salaries. Some resources considered in the analysis have not been found to act as an important buffer across a large number of countries. This is the case of training related to the area of the source of stress, collaborative practices and having a say in decisions. Having a say in decisions is positively related to stress coming from too many children in the classroom/playgroup/group in Japan and to the three other sources of stress considered in this section in Israel for centres for children under age 3. These results are not aligned with the literature, which suggests that these aspects of working conditions are important job resources to help workers perform their work and face sources of stress. There could be two main reasons for this. First, the survey may imperfectly capture these job resources, partly due to the self-reported nature of the information. The formulation of the question may also only partly capture the related job resource. For instance, “having a say in important decisions” is only one aspect of job autonomy. Second, training, collaborative practices and job autonomy may not be sufficiently developed or targeted to act as a buffer of stress. It could be, for instance, that staff who are trained or exchange with colleagues on an area of work are more aware of the challenges related to this area of work. Having a say in important decisions may lead to additional responsibilities and working time, and therefore can add to stress rather than giving staff more flexibility in their work.

With staff being at the centre of the quality of ECEC, their well-being has multiple implications. Of particular interest is the relationship between staff well-being and the extent to which staff are willing to stay in the profession, the capacity of the sector to attract new candidates and staff’s practices with children.

Thinking of leaving the job for health-related issues, rather than for any other reasons discussed in the beginning of the chapter, indicates that staff do not envisage a change or progression in their careers. This may be the consequence of poor well-being and could indicate possible risk of burnout. From 3% of pre-primary education staff in Israel to 25% of pre-primary education staff in Germany indicate “resolving health-related issues (e.g. physical and/or psychological burnout)” as the most likely reason to leave the ECEC staff role (Table C.3.3). This is the most likely reason in Germany and Korea to leave the role.

Countries differ in the age pattern of reporting health-related issues as the most likely reason to leave the job, pointing to different policy challenges (Figure 3.15). In Denmark (with low response rates), Germany, Iceland, Japan and Turkey in pre-primary education and in Israel in centres for children under 3, the percentage of staff reporting to leave due to health-related issues increases with age. In Chile, Germany (centres for children under 3), Israel (pre-primary education), Korea and Norway (both levels of education), middle-aged workers are more likely to report health-related issues as the most likely reason to leave than other age groups. Findings for these countries point to the need for policies to improve working conditions and job quality alongside career growth prospects. In Korea and to some extent Chile, percentages of young staff mentioning this reason to leave are relatively high compared to older age groups. Policies aiming to raise the quality of initial training programmes and facilitate the integration of young staff in ECEC centres can help address difficulties faced by young staff.

Comparing the percentage of staff who indicate resolving health-related issues as the most likely reason to leave the job to those who declare different levels of stress can give an indication of the role of stress for the capacity of the sector to retain staff. This can be done for the various sources of stress (Figure 3.16). In Iceland, where a large share of staff indicate resolving health-related issues as the most likely reason to leave the profession, and in Japan, this seems to be related to various sources of stress. In Germany for pre-primary education, large percentages of staff also indicate health as an important reason to leave the job. This is related to stress from having too much work from documenting children’s development and having too many children in classroom/playgroup/group. The latter source of stress is also associated with the percentage of staff reporting health as a likely reason to leave the job in Iceland, Japan and Norway for both levels of education.

TALIS Starting Strong also asks staff whether “if they could decide again, they would choose to work as an ECEC staff”. Answers to this question may also give indication of the willingness of staff to remain in the profession and of the capacity of the sector to attract candidates. The percentage of staff reporting agreement with “If I could decide again, I would still choose to work as an ECEC staff” is generally large, but smaller for Japan and Korea (Figure 3.17).

In all countries except Iceland, the percentage of staff reporting that if they could choose again, they would choose to work as an ECEC staff is lower among staff who report higher levels of stress than among staff reporting less stress (Table 3.10). In particular, in all of these countries, staff who report stress from having too many children in the classroom/playgroup/group show a lower level of agreement with the statement. In Japan and Korea, where smaller percentages of staff report that if they could choose again they would choose to work as an ECEC staff, this is even more true for staff reporting a high level of stress for various sources of stress and for all sources of stress considered in Japan. This is in line with studies that have found that stress at work can lead to disengagement with work (Bakker et al., 2007[5]).

Well-being and working conditions are crucial determinants of the capacity of the sector to attract candidates and maintain the workforce and thereby of staff shortages. Staff shortages, in turn, affect staff working conditions and well-being.

Through several questions, TALIS Starting Strong asks staff and leaders about the prevalence of staff shortages and their implications for several aspects of their work. Three areas of implications of staff shortages are considered: 1) a barrier to participation in professional development; 2) a source of stress in staff’s and leaders’ work; and 3) a limit on the effectiveness of leaders and the capacity of centres to provide a quality environment for development, learning and well-being (Table 3.11).

In Germany for both levels of education and in Israel for centres for children under age 3, large percentages of staff and leaders indicate that staff shortages create problems in a number of areas, such as a source of stress and a hindrance to the quality of the environment. Both staff and leaders in Korea indicate that staff shortages are a barrier to participation in professional development. In Norway, for both levels of education, smaller percentages of staff and leaders than in other countries indicate that staff shortages create problems in most of the areas included.

In some countries, the perception of staff shortages and their implications differ among staff and leaders. In Iceland and Japan for pre-primary and Israel for centres for children under age 3, leaders report a lack of staff as a source of stress, but staff are less likely to report so. In contrast, in Norway, leaders are less likely than staff to report staff shortages as a source of stress. These differences in perceptions between staff and leaders can come from the way staff shortages are addressed, either by leaders taking on some of the staff’s duties or staff taking on some extra work.

Policies to address staff shortages by attracting more candidates to the profession would need to act on the multiple dimensions of the working conditions. In addition, policies can aim to target specific groups of candidates with the view to diversify the workforce, and in particular, attract more men to the profession, which would be a way to alleviate staff shortages (Box 3.1).

Staff well-being can have an impact on staff engagement with the work, and in particular, on the quality of their interactions with children or process quality. A large body of research, mainly in the school context, has investigated the relationships between teachers’ sense of self-efficacy on the one hand and teachers’ classroom practices and students’ achievement on the other. Teachers who feel confident they can do their work may be more likely to have positive interactions with children and be able to support their development. While studies based on self-reported measures of self-efficacy and of teaching practices generally find a strong link, studies focusing on an external measure of teaching effectiveness have found a small, but also positive, relationship (Klassen and Tze, 2014[31]).

TALIS Starting Strong provides opportunities for linking staff’s self-efficacy to their practices with children. Practices that staff use with children as part of the target group to adapt to their individual needs and interest (adaptive practices) can be linked to a scale of staff self-efficacy in supporting child development that groups together several questions on self-efficacy related to staff supporting children’s development, learning and well-being (see Table 3.3 and Table 3.4).1 The use of adaptive practices is related to the self-efficacy scale in all countries and for both levels of education. The association is particularly strong in Israel and Turkey (Figure 3.18).

High levels of stress can also have an impact on staff interactions with children. Results from the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong show that in pre-primary settings in Iceland and Israel, staff who report more stress from having too many children in the classroom/playgroup/group report using fewer adaptive practices (OECD, 2019[1]). However, this relationship is not found for all countries. No strong association appears when linking other sources of stress to adaptive practices.

With parents being the first caregivers and educators of their children, interactions between children and parents are at the core of children’s learning, development and well-being and ECEC staff can play a role in these interactions. TALIS Starting Strong asks staff to indicate the extent to which they engage with parents/guardians at the ECEC centre through a number of practices that can be grouped into one single indicator (OECD, 2019[1]).

Social well-being, such as the extent to which staff feel valued by parents, can be related to their practices used with parents. An analysis based on data from the survey indeed finds that staff who feel more valued by parents also report a higher level of engagement with parents, which can also reflect that staff who engage more with parents also feel more valued by them (Figure 3.19). This is the case for all countries except Germany and Israel at the pre-primary level and for all countries for centres for children under age 3.

Results from the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong and Chapter 2 of the current volume suggest that the allocation of staff according to their educational and training profiles does not reinforce the possible challenges associated with increasingly diverse groups of children in ECEC settings. This is a reassuring result, but inequalities can build up in various ways and other sources of inequalities need to be investigated. If staff’s working conditions and well-being vary across centres according to certain characteristics, like the composition of children in centres, then some centres will have difficulties attracting or retaining staff or delivering high-quality ECEC.

TALIS Starting Strong data provides an opportunity to investigate the extent to which staff working conditions and well-being vary with the characteristics of children and ECEC centres. As in Chapter 2, two indicators of the characteristics of children can be considered: the concentration of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes and of children whose first language is different from the language(s) used in their ECEC centre. In both cases, comparisons of staff working conditions can be made between centres where the percentage of children in the categories is less than or equal to 10%, or more than 10%.

There are no systematic differences in staff’s working conditions according to the composition of children in the centre as underlined by Table 3.12. However, in Iceland, staff work longer hours and are less satisfied with their salary in centres with a larger diversity of children. Pre-primary staff in Germany, Israel and Turkey spend a smaller percentage of their time with children in centres with a larger diversity of children. In Germany and Turkey, a smaller percentage of time spent with children is related to stress from administrative work (see Table 3.9). In Israel (pre-primary), staff in centres with a larger diversity of children report more need for support from leaders. These are cases that should attract policy attention as these could be reasons for staff to prefer working in centres with a smaller diversity of children.

TALIS Starting Strong also allows exploring whether staff are more stressed by a lack of resources in centres with a larger diversity of children. In Chile, Israel (pre-primary) and Norway (centres for children under age 3), staff in centres with a larger share of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes report more stress due to a lack of resources and in Germany (pre-primary) this is the case for staff in centres with larger share of children whose first language is different from the language(s) used in the centre.

In some places, the results suggest that resources are being allocated to support staff’s working conditions in centres with a greater diversity of children. In Israel in centres for children under age 3, staff in centres with a larger linguistic diversity of children spend a greater percentage of their time with children, which could suggest that they receive more support for tasks to be performed without children. And in centres with a larger share of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes, staff are also more satisfied with their salary. In Denmark (centres for children under age 3, with low response rates) and Turkey, staff in centres with a larger diversity of children report less stress due to a lack of resources.

In addition to the composition of children, ECEC centres vary according to a number of characteristics that can lead to differences in resources. These characteristics include geographical location, size of the centre and type of management (public versus private). Lack of resources at centres can make it more difficult for staff to perform their work. If staff in centres with a greater lack of resources have worse working conditions, they may be reluctant to work in these centres. However, if other working conditions are better in centres with a lack of resources, this may to some extent compensate for the difficulties of working in a centre lacking resources.

The survey asks leaders whether a shortage of various types of resources hinders the centre’s capacity to provide a quality environment for children’s development, well-being and learning. These items can be combined into two main indicators of shortages: material and human resources. Staff’s working conditions can thus be analysed according to the availability of both material and human resources (Table 3.13).

Staff in centres with more limited resources spend less time with children in Japan and more time in Turkey. Pre-primary staff in Chile and Turkey and staff working with children under age 3 in Israel report a need for more support from leaders in centres with more limited resources. Apart from these cases, working conditions do not appear to be strongly linked to the level of ECEC centres’ human and financial resources. However, staff in centres where leaders report a lack of resources also report being stressed by the lack of resources in Chile, Germany and Israel (both levels of education), Iceland, and Korea.

Overall, these results suggest that differences between centres in terms of the composition of children or the availability of resources are associated only to a limited extent with less favourable working conditions. These results also suggest that staff working in more challenging centres are generally not compensated with higher salaries, shorter working hours or more support from their leaders.

This chapter pointed to several policies that can have an impact on staff’s working conditions and support their well-being:

  1. 1. Setting the conditions to ensure that all staff continue to learn and develop their skills throughout their careers in several ways, including both formal and informal learning. This is discussed in Chapter 2.

  2. 2. Fostering the development of high-quality leadership. Leadership can help staff in their daily work and buffer several sources of stress. High-quality leadership is also crucial to help staff take on more responsibilities and develop skills, learn from others and collaborate to increase their performance at work. Leadership is discussed in Chapter 4.

  3. 3. Raising the status and reward of the profession by ensuring that staff’s salaries are aligned with their responsibilities and better defining career progressions in the ECEC sector.

  4. 4. Better designing regulations around working time to ensure that staff have the time to perform the variety of tasks that are under their responsibilities.

The last two policy pointers are discussed in this section.

Salaries and opportunities for career progression are important rewards for the efforts of ECEC staff, mitigate sources of stress, and may help improve job satisfaction and retention. Given the fact that the work of teachers (or of staff with more pedagogical responsibilities) in both pre-primary and primary education levels is important and requires skills, knowledge and expertise, educational requirements and salaries could be better aligned. If educational requirements are similar but salaries are different, one sector would benefit at the expense of the other. In some countries (Chile and Turkey), educational requirements and salaries are the same for pre-primary and primary teachers at the beginning and end of their careers, which can be a good way to similarly attract good candidates to both levels of education (Figure 3.20 and Table 3.14). In Korea, salaries in public ECEC settings are the same, but the minimum qualification level for teachers is lower for pre-primary than for primary teachers. In Norway, both salaries and educational requirements are slightly lower for pre-primary staff. In Denmark, the qualification requirements are the same but salaries are lower in pre-primary education, which could make candidates prefer primary to pre-primary education.

In countries with gaps between salaries and educational requirements in pre-primary and primary education, governments can aim to progressively align both the salaries and the educational requirements of the two sectors. However, governments can generally only influence salaries for staff in publicly managed centres. Between 10% of pre-primary centres in Israel and 70% in Germany are privately managed, which is reflected in the ECEC leaders’ responsibility to establish staff salaries, which is more frequently the case in most centres in Germany, Japan and Korea than in Iceland, Israel (pre-primary) and Turkey, where most centres are publicly managed (Figure 3.21). In Japan, Korea and Norway, where a large percentage of centres are privately managed, there are differences in staff’s satisfaction with salary according to the type of management (Table C.3.1). Staff in privately managed centres are more satisfied with their salary than those in publicly managed centres in Japan and Norway (for centres for children under age 3), while they are less satisfied in Korea. These findings point to the need to find policy levers to harmonise staff’s working conditions across settings to avoid differences in quality from emerging between settings according to the type of management.

In addition to conditions at the beginning of their careers, progression along careers is also important to attract and retain the workforce. Salary progression for ECEC teachers is limited in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Turkey. In the first three countries, satisfaction with salary remains low across ages and decreases with age in Turkey (Table C.3.1). In contrast, satisfaction with salary increases with age in Korea with a broader salary progression. Higher salary progression can help staff remain engaged with the profession and feel that their efforts are rewarded, but it should also go with evolving responsibilities.

Career progressions need to include both vertical and horizontal transitions. Vertical transitions involve increasing responsibilities and, for instance, changes from assistants to teachers or teachers to leaders. The recognition of skills acquired on the job through formal systems can facilitate such changes, especially when the minimum educational requirements are not the same across roles. Horizontal transitions could involve, for instance, specialisation in certain tasks along the professional career. For instance, assistants or staff who mostly work with children could be involved in relationships with parents. Staff with limited responsibilities with children can play a greater role with small groups of children. Teachers can be involved in some leadership responsibilities, shared with the leader or other staff (see Chapter 4). Policies can support these progressions by developing clear competency frameworks for various roles that are adapted to the organisation of the ECEC sector.

ECEC staff’s work includes a variety of responsibilities and activities that go beyond working directly with children. The relative time staff spend working without children varies greatly across and within countries (see Figure 3.5). In countries and centres with greater amounts of time spent without children, overall working time is more (e.g. in Chile, Japan and Korea).

Large shares of staff report high levels of stress from work with no contact with children, such as documenting children’s development and learning, or administrative work (see Table 3.1 and Table 3.2.) and in a number of countries, staff who are more stressed by these tasks spend more time on them (see Table 3.8 and Table 3.9). In contrast, in Norway, a small percentage of staff report being stressed from their workload from work duties that do not involve contact with children and a small number of hours are dedicated to work without children.

These findings point to the need to ensure that staff can devote sufficient time to individual planning, collaboration with colleagues or parents, documenting children’s development, and administrative tasks (Box 3.2). In several countries, staff are given protected time for these activities (Table 3.15).

Developing frameworks for staff’s working time can prevent excessive workloads, especially if frameworks/guidelines are aligned with the breadth of staff’s professional roles and include some flexibility to enable leaders to effectively organise work time within their centres with some autonomy. Policies can also provide additional support to staff with specified roles and responsibilities, including tasks without children, for instance by organising complementarities between staff members, such as teachers working in tandem with assistants. Several other policies can also help mitigate staff stress resulting from responsibilities beyond the work with children. They include policies that will expand staff’s resources to perform their work, such as high-quality leadership, limited size of the group of children staff are working with, education and training to help staff cope with these responsibilities, and aligned salaries. These policies are particularly important for staff with responsibilities for duties not involving direct contact with children.

.

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Note

← 1. The staff scale of self-efficacy (S1SECD) is based on 7 items from Q24 of the staff questionnaire requiring staff to report their level of confidence in various tasks related to supporting children’s development, learning and well-being. The scale reached metric invariance for the target populations at both pre-primary (ISCED 02) level and in centres for children under age 3. For more information, see Annex B.

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