Being a great colleague is about much more than signing each other’s birthday cards, sharing content from professional development and having each other’s backs to cover shifts—as early childhood professionals there are a range of professional and legal obligations we have to each other. Our employers also have obligations to protect our welfare.
Here’s a quick tour through a few layers of early childhood professional duty of care for our colleagues, and some very useful and inspiring resources.
Professional care and respect
Early Childhood Australia developed a Code of Ethics for Early Childhood professionals based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991). It provides a framework for reflection about the ethical responsibilities of early childhood professionals. There’s a whole section on how to treat colleagues, which encourages us to:
- Build a spirit of collegiality and professionalism through collaborative relationships based on trust, respect and honesty.
- Use constructive processes to address differences of opinion in order to negotiate shared perspective and actions.
- Participate in a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’ to support continuous improvement.
- Maintain ethical relationships in online interactions.
For the full Code of Ethics click here.
Being a Caring Colleague
When someone is ill or having a difficult time, especially for an extended time, we may not be sure how to show support—here are five ideas that might be welcome:
1. Cook for them
Join with colleagues to create a team to bake goodies and meals, first checking if there are dietary restrictions they must follow.
2. Create a ‘cheer-me-up’ basket
Find out what their interests are and create a hamper along that theme. Do they relax with a good book – what authors or categories do they like? If they like movies you could include novelty items like popcorn, or make lists of ‘upcoming releases’ on streaming sites like Netflix, Stan or Just Watch – or what about a pamper-pack, with their favourite moisturiser, bubble bath, soothing tea; if they’re creative you could include coloured pencils/textas/crayons, paper, an adult ‘mindful’ colouring in book, an origami kit.
3. Make a themed gift box
Ideas: ‘Box of Sunshine’ filled with all yellow things – maybe a yellow mug, chamomile tea, lemon candy, or a yellow hat.; ‘Healing Green Box’ filled with soothing green items like a cucumber face mask, peppermint tea, planting kit with seeds, and anything green; 'Calming Ocean Box' everything blue, a shell to hold to the ear, a CD of ocean sounds; ocean scented air freshener; ocean scented soap.
4. Offer to run errands or shopping
Find out if they need someone to go to the shops or post office or run any other errands, and see which colleague could do this conveniently.
5. Simply send an email saying you care
Simplest of all, why not just tell them you’re thinking of them and hope they are doing well. Just hearing from people can make a difference, especially if you let them know they don’t need to reply.
How does your workplace support the mental wellbeing of all staff?
According to Be You, the mental health wellbeing program run by Beyond Blue and ECA, ‘taking responsibility for your mental health, and understanding that it’s a key to success in your personal and professional life, is the most important action you can take.’
Management is responsible for developing a shared understanding and for setting up structures and processes to minimise work-related stress. All staff need to work together to create a culture where everyone feels supported and able to flourish.
Signs that a colleague is stressed:
- Turning up late to work on a more regular basis
- Calling in sick frequently
- Change in communication style
- Behaving erratically or unpredictably
- Having trouble concentrating, making decisions and managing multiple tasks
- Being unusually emotional and getting frustrated with people
- Avoiding social activities
- Unable to accept negative feedback
- Getting overwhelmed or easily upset
How you can help a colleague who seems stressed or anxious:
- Ask them if they want to talk about it
- Listen actively and without judgement (some people just want to vent without being offered solutions)
- Ask if they can identify a stressor at work, and support them to address and minimise this
- Ask if they would like a mentor (not their supervisor)
- Encourage them to make time for themselves—for reflection, practicing mindfulness
- Avoid office gossip (never spread rumours about their situation)
- Offer practical help (if it's related to a work task, offer assistance or resources that can help to manage their workload)
- Check in on a regular basis
How leaders can create a healthy culture:
- Build a culture that supports staff to seek help
- Identify work-related stressors and set up structures to respond to and minimise them
- Provide resources to help staff build their sense of self-efficacy
- Encourage and improve connectedness with children, families and colleagues
- Provide support such as access to the Employee Assistance Program, union representatives or a wellbeing representative
- Provide opportunities for growth and personal development
- Develop and implement a Wellbeing Plan
Inspiration from our members:
Amplify article: How Victoria Avenue Children’s Centre are putting a focus on staff wellbeing
Amplify article: The power of asking for help, a member story
Every employer has a legal duty of care to protect the safety and wellbeing of their employees – under Worksafe legislation in their state.
In practice this means we need to make sure our workplaces have the right health and safety systems in place and to use them if a colleague has an accident or becomes ill.
Here is a checklist of aspects covered in most legislation:
- Is your first aid kit well stocked — does everyone know where it is?
- Are all staff up to date with their compulsory First Aid training?
- Is a designated ‘First Aider’ on duty at all times?
- Do you have an accident or incident report form? Is it easily available?
- Do you have an anti-bullying policy and procedures?
- Does your workplace have workplace health and safety information on display – like this If you get injured at work poster from WorkSafe NSW
- Does your employer have Workers Compensation Insurance?
- Does your organisation have a Return to Work Program for injured employees?