Masterclass Recap: Walking the Line to Retain Staff

THRIVE Masterclass hostess Kathy Ligon teamed up with the CEO of Inspire! Care 360 Tony D’Agostino for our August webinar to discuss how best to engage and retain staff within the childcare industry.

And it’s clear that childcare businesses are desperate to retain staff as 68% of for-profit organizations rank ‘Labor’ as their top risk and 65% ranked ‘Talent and Recruitment’ as their top priority.

So, what is the typical cost of staff turnover in childcare? On the low end, the cost to replace a $10-$13/hour worker would be between $3300 and $4300—which is money that will directly affect owners and their bottom line. And when close to 40% of all childcare workers are needing to be replaced each year, it’s worth investing in a hiring process and engagement tactics that work!

Childcare Success Pyramid

That’s why Tony developed the Childcare Success Pyramid. The pyramid (seen on the right) is built with the pillars that childcare business owners and directors need to see long-term gains in their staffing efforts. Keeping your employees engaged, being efficient with your time and money, and managing your reputation within your company and your community are what create an amazing company culture.

This particular webinar, “Walk the Line: Engaging Staff in Your Childcare Business,” focuses on the employee engagement pillar. But what does Tony mean by “walking the line?” Well, we all know the saying, “You’ve crossed the line!” In Tony’s “walk the line” concept, the idea is to define what elements within your company can help push that imaginary line far away from your staff so that it is never crossed and staff never have a reason to leave. You do this by getting everyone aligned within your organization and setting clear expectations. Your goal is to create a culture where you are bringing as much value to your staff as they are bringing to your business.

Owners and directors always think “How much more do I need to pay to retain staff?” but, really, the secret sauce to retaining staff is providing a great work culture. If you make culture the fabric of your business and the fabric of who you are—clearly defining your expectations and always following through—your staff will stick with you through thick and thin.


So, how do you begin to build a work culture that pushes the line out and keeps staff engaged? Easy.

1. Define your values.
Jointly develop your company’s values with your staff to ensure they have buy-in and understand you vision, mission and what you are trying to achieve. Have your directors meet with teachers and define what’s most important to them. Your values can be anything from “we are always honest” to “we are always kind.” What matters most to your company culture? Your staff should all have the same values and be one the same page—and these defined values should be infused throughout your recruiting and hiring processes as well.

2. Recruit staff by being clear on your values.
Make what your business stands for known by any and everyone who come into contact with it—including potential new hires. When recruiting for a new job, include your values in the job posting: “We’re looking for an honest, kind individual who can…” Also, set up your CRM to reply to recruits the same way you would to potential enrollments. Leverage your staff and your values on social media pages. Show off all the nice things you do for staff by sharing anecdotes and photos online. Don’t just say what you’re about, BE what you’re about.

3. Hire staff who are a cultural fit.
When interviewing a potential new hire, ask yourself, “Will this person fit in with the rest of my staff?” And, if you’re unsure, ask culture fit questions during the interview to determine the answer. Culture fit is best determined by situational questions in interviews. You wouldn’t ask “Are you a hard worker?” Instead you could prompt the new hire with: “Tell me about a time you went above and beyond your job role.”

4. Employ strong onboarding and orientation programs.
The key to a strong onboarding program is keeping it consistent. Set really clear expectations for all of your staff members and follow through on these expectations. The point of onboarding is to get your new staff on the same page as your veteran staff. Create an employee handbook and update it every 6 months so that it is always current.

5. Implement measured mentoring.
Part of the onboarding process is matching new staff with veteran staff—also known as measured mentoring. Having new staff learn directly from staff who were once in their shoes allows for empathy and an effective learning environment. People learn and adapt to values much quicker when they have a mentor to guide them. It is the best way for them to learn in the field and apply their new knowledge quickly.

6. Create clear expectations.
This is very important when wanting to push that line. Communicating with your staff often and setting clear expectations allows for very little gray area, helping to nip bad habits in the bud and grow good habits. It’s also important to get to know your staff personally so you know how best to manage them. Performance evaluations are critical to keeping the line clear.

7. Provide professional development opportunities.
Too often we look at how well staff is doing in developing the children in their care and we never consider how well we are doing in developing the staff within our care. Focus on developing your staff’s customer service skills (i.e. their interactions with parents and families), their HR skills (i.e. conflict management) and their managerial and leadership skills. Creating learning paths for each of these is critical to their growth.

8. Reward your staff.
What’s important to each of your staff members? How do they like to be rewarded for a job well done? Rewards don’t need to be monetary. A simple recognition like ‘Employee of the Month’ or a ‘Hustle’ award can show staff that they’re appreciated. Or providing additional paid time off for a staff member who has gone above and beyond their job role and deserves a break. Build a rewards program that reflects your company culture.

9. Provide a career path for your staff.
Childcare jobs may seem flat, with not a lot of room to grow, but you can create a path of opportunities for how your staff can move up within your business. Set clear opportunities and expectations to get there and clearly define responsibilities for each new role.

In this record low unemployment economy, retaining staff is more important than ever. Look at ways you can engage and develop your staff to keep them with you for the long haul.

For more tips and tricks, watch the entire, one-hour recording of the Walk the Line: Engaging Staff in Your Childcare Business here.

Meredith Martin