In Australia, the impact of COVID-19 has been significant on the society, the economy and businesses across all sectors, including early childhood education and care.

One of the major issues of concern facing KU when the pandemic began to spread and Australia entered a strict lockdown in March 2020, was how to support our teams’ mental and physical health and wellbeing, whilst maintaining ongoing business practices. We sought to minimise the negative impact on our staff and demonstrate our genuine care and concern for them and their loved ones.

The activation of KU’s established Business Continuity Plan enabled all Central Office based support staff to be immediately redeployed to work from home and continue supporting our frontline services. The IT Team ensured all staff were set up in their homes with all the IT equipment they needed to be effective in their roles. This enabled staff to continue to work, minimised the disruption to the flow of business as usual and enabled KU to keep our office-based staff safe in remote environments.

Communication was a critical aspect in keeping staff informed and ensuring their confidence in KU as a caring employer of choice was maintained. CEO, Christine Legg, sent frequent personal emails to staff updating them on new developments, such as the introduction of new funding and fee arrangements. We frequently surveyed staff to check what was working for them and what supports needed to be changed or added. Wellness information and videos were published in response to feedback from staff and were designed to support the wellbeing of staff in different working environments.

As in our services, technology became the backbone of communication with staff, and the enabler of innovation. Virtual meetings were held online to both provide support to services, and to check on the wellbeing of support staff working from home. KU’s longstanding employee assistance counselling program was also made available via Zoom as needed.

This consistent and effective interaction with staff served to strengthen staff’s connection to KU and enhance the culture. The 2020 KU Employee Engagement survey reported a staff engagement rate of 91.4% – the highest it has ever been! Similarly, KU’s employee NPS was +45, up +10 from 2019, and the highest since eNPS was introduced. This increase is even more significant given that most KU staff were defined as ‘essential services’ and remained at the front line engaged in service delivery throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

KU was able to apply for JobKeeper to reduce the negative financial impact on the business resulting from parents removing their children out of childcare due to job losses, loss of income, lockdowns, change in family dynamics and other factors brought about by COVID-19. Staff were informed about this development and kept abreast of changes to JobKeeper that affected their individual circumstances as well as the sector. KU is particularly proud of our casual staff who continued to work whilst receiving JobKeeper. Many casuals in the early childhood education and care sector did not continue to work during COVID-19, and the fact that KU’s casual staff continued to work is a testament to the long-term relationships KU cultivates with our staff, and also the fact that staff value KU’s unwavering commitment to their safety and wellbeing.

Due to COVID-19, KU Central Office has experienced greater productivity with staff working from home, and this has encouraged the introduction of increased flexible working arrangements for office-based support staff going forward.

Given that KU’s reputation as an employer of choice has received significant endorsement by staff, we recognise that it is important to maintain these results in a non-crisis environment. As we look to the future, we will leverage the positive learnings from 2020 to ensure our staff continue to feel valued and connected to KU.