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Higher Demands and Lower Access to Resources Impact Job Satisfaction Among the Early Childhood Education Workforce

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The early childhood education workforce has a significant impact on the development of language, motor, cognitive, and social-emotional skills in young children. The ability of these workers to foster this development in the children under their care is influenced by their own physical and mental health. The well-being of this workforce is often overlooked when considering the quality of the care that children receive. Early childhood education is an occupation with many stressors, including low wages, long hours, high job demands, increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases and environmental hazards such as cleaning supplies. These work conditions contribute to the disproportionately high mental and physical conditions experienced by the early education workforce, where high turnover rates are also seen. Those who work at Head Start programs, which provide free care to low-income families, have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to these demands.

A study from the Colorado School of Public Health applied the Job Demands-Resources Model to further understand the demands and resources that impact job satisfaction among early childhood education workforce that work with Head Start populations. This model predicts employee satisfaction, burnout, and turnover by examining demands and resources, both personal and external. Demands refer to stressors and can include personal factors such as mental health and external factors such as workload or staffing issues. Resources refer to positive factors such as resiliency or supervisor support. The purpose of the study was to tease out these factors in order to inform strategies and policies to improve job satisfaction and lower high turnover rates. Researchers Charlotte Farewell, Jennie Quinlan, Emily Melnick, Jamie Powers, and Jini Puma from the Colorado School of Public Health administered an electronic cross-sectional survey to 137 early childhood education staff in Colorado in 2019. The survey included questions regarding both personal external demands and resources.

Public Health Impact

In terms of demands, early childhood education staff reported higher levels of stress and depression compared to national averages, and also reported greater workload and staffing concerns than the national average. In terms of resources, early childhood education staff reported lower levels of mindfulness and less access to work resources such as good safety and health conditions, support of maximal productivity, clear understanding of their role, and respectful treatment. Job satisfaction was lower among early childhood education staff (34% compared to the national average of 49%). The greater demands and lower access to resources experienced by this workforce seem to impact their job satisfaction. Further research to tease out which specific demands could be mitigated or resources could be bolstered to impact job satisfaction rates would be a meaningful next step in this area of research.