01 June 2009

Bullying and Harassment in the Child Care Industry - Let's talk about ... Bitchy staff

Positive Relationships: Let's talk about ... Bitchy staff

Nurseries have perhaps more than their share of back-biting and petty criticism among the staff. Annette Rawstrone spoke to childcare practitioners about ways of dealing with it.

Q: What experience have you had of bitchiness at work?
'Thankfully my workplace is not too bitchy -we're a very small team with just ten of us and we are like a big family! Obviously there are some disagreements and debates, although we always ensure that it is kept to the staff room and definitely not in front of the children.'
'It seems to be an occupational hazard! Sometimes I feel like I'm back in the playground.'
'Some of the bitchiness is created by staff disagreeing on procedures. If they are asked by managers to do something in a certain way, instead of discussing it they go away and moan to each other, which creates a "them and us" atmosphere.'

'When I started work I was fresh from college and rather naive. I found it very hard to get on with some members of staff. It took a long time to build up relationships, although now I find that I can happily work alongside the team. If there is a dispute I now try to keep well out of it and not take sides! At first I would take sides and voice my opinions. Then I found this wasn't the best tactic.'

'Bitchiness and back-stabbing all go on. When I started my first nursery I wanted it to be a place where the staff enjoyed their jobs and all got on. What was I dreaming of?'

Q: Why do you think bitchiness is so common in nurseries?
'I think it is because full-time staff can be working alongside each other 37 hours and more a week. This means that some staff will see each other more than they see their own families. In such a small and sometimes stressful environment, it is hard not to disagree with each other.'
'I think it's common in any workplace where there are groups of females working in close proximity. Cliques develop. I do think it's in our nature as women to bottle things up. A man would just come right out and say what he thinks. That's it for him, he moves on and gets over it and expects you to do the same.'
'When I started my first nursery there were four staff, no problems. As the staff team grew, a "them and us" environment developed. Not just between the management and staff, but between the staff in different rooms.'
'All early years practitioners have different views on practice and have different styles in which they work. This can lead to many disputes over who is correct. I also have learned that it is hard to "leave the monkey at the door" and this can sometimes cause bitchy comments to arise.'

Q: How have you dealt with bitchy colleagues?
'Whenever I hear bitchy comments now, I simply tell the person that I don't want to hear it because I am staying out of arguments.'
'In the past, bitchy comments have been ignored. However, I don't think this is the best way to handle it. Now, we speak to the individuals involved as soon as possible and give them the opportunity to air any problems or issues. If these things are left to fester they get blown out of proportion.'
'If I know I'm being bitched about, it obviously makes me feel a bit down - no one enjoys being bitched about! Although I try my hardest not to bite and to just let the person cool off and maybe change their thoughts.'
'Once or twice I have taken on board what was being said, such as moaning that the nappies aren't being done quickly enough. Then I've ensured that next time I would be quicker. Sometimes it is easier to try to please bitchy colleagues than to fight it!'
'I have tried team-building exercises, it just doesn't work. I would like to close the staff room, as I feel that this is where a lot of it stems from. Unfortunately, the EYFS is clear that staff must be provided with a place to rest during breaks, so there is nothing I can do.'

Q: How does bitchiness affect the nursery atmosphere and impinge on your work?
'The main thing that it impinges on is time. It is time-consuming to resolve these issues, which generally turn out to be mountains out of molehills. The majority of time, staff end up admitting that they may have over-reacted or been too sensitive. The earlier they are dealt with, the less time it takes up.'
'It doesn't, because all bitching is kept strictly to the staff room. I feel confident that all of the staff I work with agree that we cannot let personal differences affect our practice. It just isn't fair on the children. Parents don't pay for ill service - we are required to give the best possible care.'

Q: Is it possible to achieve a non-bitchy workplace - and how?
'There will always be bitchiness, no matter where you work - in a nursery, in a bar, in a shopping centre.'
'I am not sure it is possible to achieve a non-bitchy workplace. It's human nature that people don't see eye to eye, and we all have different opinions and views on things.
'I don't think the age of staff makes that much difference either. Some may say that if you have a maturer workforce it doesn't happen. In my experience they can be some of the worst culprits, as they push the younger ones too.'
'The title of this feature, "Let's talk" is exactly right. In my experience, most issues are easily resolved by talking things through. Although the nature of a busy day nursery means it is not always possible to do this immediately, a good manager will always find time during the day to get together.'
'I reckon that to reduce bitchiness there should be regular team-building events, even if it is just a night out or a meal. I actually sorted out my differences with one colleague while sitting in the pub with my workmates. Enrichment activities also help the team come closer together, which then enables them to work more efficiently and provide better childcare. Basically, regular booze-ups are good!'
'At our nursery we frequently go out for meals together, which is really nice and provides the opportunity for a good chat with each other. Managers must also have good "people" skills and be able to come out into a room and motivate staff and throw praise around regularly. It really does help.'
'Colleagues should also remember to praise one another. I will regularly tell my colleagues what I liked about their activity or just give a smile if I see them doing something great. I expect and get the same. It really does raise the morale around the workplace.'
What are your experiences of bitching in the workplace? To continue the discussion go to 'Have Your Say' at www.nurseryworld.co.uk

AN EXPERT'S VIEW - Senior staff must model staff behaviour, says Rachel Hill, owner and manager of Altofts Day Nursery, West Yorkshire
I started my career as a nursery nurse and worked in a number of early years settings. I don't remember one where bitchiness didn't take place. As a young newly qualified nursery nurse you are impressionable, and as with any new role, your first few years are where you are most vulnerable. New team members must be supported and shown the ropes - we wouldn't expect children to settle immediately with no support, so we shouldn't expect it of new staff.
When I opened my own nursery I decided early on that bitchiness would not be tolerated. It is quite obvious that an unhappy team will have a negative impact throughout the setting. Management is the key to ensuring that hard feelings are resolved. How can we expect our children to resolve disputes effectively when we are unable to do that ourselves? Also, if everyone has the same goals and intentions, then bitchiness doesn't have to take place.
The early years workforce is still very female dominated, and in any industry this can lead to bitchiness. There has to be mutual respect between staff members and an acceptance of differences. We all have to have clear equal opportunities and inclusion policies, anti-bullying and behaviour management procedures, so we should be following these ourselves, not seeing them just for the children in our care.

At every staff meeting we ensure that there is time for a general discussion about our nursery day. I acknowledge that working in a busy day nursery is hard and can involve long hours. Therefore it is important that we make it as friendly and supportive as possible. It is not realistic to eradicate all hard feelings or problems when working as part of a team. I believe the Social and Emotional Aspects of Development training has had a huge impact on us in a positive way - if we are expecting children to talk about their feelings more, then we need to be doing this as well.
If senior staff are seen to treat all staff fairly and with respect, then the whole team will hopefully value each other. 'Treat people how you would like to be treated yourself' is a very relevant statement.

It is healthy to have debates and even disagreements, but it takes experience and maturity to ensure that the outcome is the right one for all concerned, and also to ensure that people's feelings aren't hurt in the process. We often talk about the discussions that take place in the nursery rooms between staff and have agreed as a team that negative discussions and negative vibes towards colleagues will lead to negative experiences for our children, which is not an option.
In my experience, there is always that one person who handles things badly and one who shies away. A good leader will support staff to learn how to deal with situations. Our aim is to ensure that children are confident and have high self-esteem. I feel managers should want these skills in their employees to ensure we have a professional and fulfilled staff team.


  1. Just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

    Child Care Australia

  2. Hi, I am searching the blogs for just knowledge On Childcare Sydney. When I read your blog I impressed because it is different from other. It provides many helpful ideas. Thanks