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Reconceptualising early childhood educator workplace well-being in Australia: An Ethical and Care-based Workplace Well-being (ECWW) model

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posted on 2023-12-06, 04:57 authored by Catherine JonesCatherine Jones

This study examined workplace well-being in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in Australia. It is presented as a thesis by publication consisting of three articles published in well-known peer reviewed early childhood journals. Article #1 is a position paper which explores the potential of using Basic Psychological Needs Theory as a lens to understand, support and improve early childhood educator workplace well-being. This theory sits within Self Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985), which in turn sits within positive psychology theory. Articles #2 and #3 present key findings of the qualitative and quantitative strands of this study. 

Historically, the literature on educator workplace well-being in the ECEC sector has predominantly focused on a deficit model of well-being. The majority of research has investigated outcomes of poor well-being such as stress, burnout and depression. Further, the sector has lacked an agreed definition or conceptualistion of workplace well-being and has largely overlooked the complex interplay of factors influencing well-being. Drawing on positive psychology theories, this study aimed to develop a holistic understanding of positive educator workplace well-being and placed priority on educator voices to inform the conceptualisation of this phenomena. Valuing the voices of those in the field ensured the lived experiences of educators were authentic and enabled the interconnectedness of factors which influenced their well-being to be made visible.

This mixed methods study used an exploratory sequential design with two phases of data collection and analysis. Phase 1 comprised interviews with 22 early childhood educators with a range of qualifications, and the analysis of six monthly well-being logs by these educators. Key themes from Phase 1 were used to identify predictor variables of well-being, which then fed into the development of a survey questionnaire. In Phase 2, the contextually devised survey was disseminated to determine whether Phase 1 findings could be generalised to an Australia-wide population. The survey was completed by 290 early childhood educators across the country.

The integrated findings of this study found educators conceptualised workplace well-being as, A positive emotional and psychological state which encapsulates both hedonic and eudemonic well- being, influenced by a complex interplay of individual, organisational and socio-political factors. 

Educator well-being is characterised by feelings of happiness, possessing professional agency, having a sense of belonging, feeling cared for and supported and being valued and treated equitably. When experiencing wellness, educators experience a sense of accomplishment in working in a meaningful profession. 

Primary influences included relationships with colleagues and leaders, and organisational factors such as the availability of time, clarity of job roles and responsibilities, renumeration and centre quality. Importantly, all identified factors were influenced by notions of equity, justice and care. Additionally, the integrated findings provided evidence of the potential of using SDT, in particular, Basic Psychological Needs Theory, as a theoretical lens to understand and importantly support educator well- being. The integrated findings supported the development of the Ethical and Care-Based Workplace Well-being (ECWW) model comprising four overarching components: ethical principles and practices; fulfilment of one’s basic psychological needs; healthy relationships and strong teams; and the provision of equitable structural conditions. 

This thesis provides a critical contribution to the field by developing a model to support educator workplace well-being through a positive psychology lens. In a workforce which continues to grapple with high turnover rates, supporting well-being is a key factor in determining the ECEC sectors long-term viability. 


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Literature Review -- 3. Self Determination Theory -- 4. Methodology -- 5. Qualitative Strand Methodology -- 6. Qualitative Strand Findings -- 7. Development of the Survey -- 8. Quantitative Strand Methodology -- 9. Quantitative Strand Findings -- 10. Secondary Outcomes: Stress and Burnout -- 11. Integration of Findings and Discussion -- 12. Model and Implications -- 13. Summary and Evaluation of the Study, Future Directions, and Conclusion -- References -- Appendices

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

School of Education

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Fay Hadley

Additional Supervisor 1

Manjula Waniganayake

Additional Supervisor 2

Melissa Johnstone


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340 pages

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