Direct support professionals (DSPs) have one of the most emotionally demanding jobs out there. Day in and day out, they give all of themselves to help the people they serve to live independently. And many of them still go home and go above and beyond as spouses, parents, and volunteers. As leaders in intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) services, it’s your job to ensure that DSPs know that their contributions to the organization and community are not going unrecognized or unappreciated. And there’s no better time to show that appreciation than National DSP Recognition Week.
In 2023, Relias conducted a survey of DSPs across the country. From the over 600 responses we received, we’ve put together a list of ways that DSPs enjoy being recognized, along with a few recommendations on how to put these recognition preferences into action.
Reward your DSPs’ hard work
In our 2023 DSP Survey Report, 51% of DSPs told us that reward programs are valuable. Certainly, instituting a rewards program to recognize your DSPs’ efforts won’t act as a panacea for staff happiness and retention. But it can go a long way to making your DSPs feel recognized and appreciated.
When considering how to recognize your DSPs, gift cards are a great idea, as they allow each individual the ability to enjoy the reward in a way that feels special or meaningful to them. Gift cards can be a practical yet fun way to show your DSPs you value their contributions. Also consider asking your DSPs what other kinds of rewards they prefer, such as free snacks, drinks, or swag bags.
These options aren’t the only way you can reward your DSPs, though. Providing a free luncheon for your staff during National DSP Recognition Week is a great idea too – who doesn’t like free food?
Hold a luncheon in honor of National DSP Recognition Week
A company picnic or lunch that meets current standards around social distancing can be a great way of reconnecting with your staff. It gives DSPs an opportunity to see the faces of leadership outside of a traditional setting. However, DSPs’ continuous working hours can make planning a lunch for all staff difficult. As a result, you may want to plan for at least two separate lunches or an open time frame.
For example, the lunch can be scheduled to take place over the two last hours and two first hours of a shift, assuming your DSPs work in 12-hour shifts. This allows staff who are coming into and getting off work an opportunity to socialize with administrative officials and one another. Obviously, if your team works three or more shifts, some may be unable to attend. For those who can’t attend, you can find a way to send them a meal while they’re working.
Other options include simply giving DSPs an extended lunch break to attend the gathering. This will help to show your team that you appreciate them.
Provide private recognition to your DSPs
The 2023 DSP Survey Report also found that receiving direct, private recognition from supervisors was far and away the most popular means by which DSPs enjoy receiving recognition. In fact, 64% of DSPs told us that getting private recognition directly from a supervisor was very or extremely important. Compare this to the 4% who reported that it was “not at all” valuable, and the importance of private recognition becomes even more clear.
Taking the time to set up regular one-on-one meetings with your DSPs can have a huge impact on their professional satisfaction. In these meetings, give your DSPs the ability to go over any professional or personal goals they may have. Also, make sure to express to your staff how much you appreciate their contributions to the organization and community by highlighting the wins you notice in each of their caseloads.
Give opportunities for professional development
While offering private recognition was a popular type of appreciation reported by DSPs, providing opportunities for professional development came in at number one. These opportunities were rated as very to extremely valuable by 66% of DSPs, but only 14% said that their organization actually offers professional development opportunities.
DSPs have to stay up to date on trends and best practices within their industry in order to provide the highest level of care possible. But how can they do this? Through our work with DSPs, we have put together key points that can help you construct meaningful learning opportunities for your staff. We’ve found that, like most people, DSPs learn best by:
- Having a meaningful reason to learn
- Building on prior experiences
- Being involved
- Having control to learn in their own way and at their own pace
- Being in a safe, informal environment
- Receiving constructive, respectful feedback
As DSPs enter the profession out of a desire to help others, they want to continue to learn and get better at what they do. You can find more guidance on constructing a professional development plan for DSPs in our e-book, Best Practices for Training DSPs.
Provide new leadership and career opportunities
No one wants to feel like they’re working a dead-end job, and DSPs are no different. Indeed, 65% of respondents in the 2023 DSP survey told us that they find it very or extremely valuable when their organization provides them with new leadership and career opportunities. Despite the importance of this form of recognition, only 14% of DSPs have received new leadership or career opportunities from their organizations.
Here, we find a clear gap between DSP and organizational expectations. While it’s not possible to promote everyone, creating a clear career path for your staff can show what growth and career opportunities look like in your organization. This type of path can follow several different examples.
Some organizations used a tiered structure where DSPs can move up to the next tier as they gain the requisite skills. Other organizations partner highly skilled DSPs with new staff to help with the onboarding process. While there are plenty of options for plotting career paths, make sure to emphasize that professional growth can also mean becoming highly skilled in the DSP role.
Additionally, it’s important to provide training to individuals who express interest in taking on more responsibility or serving in a supervisory capacity. This will help you determine their strengths and where they need to grow. By knowing what skills your staff members need to cultivate, and then providing them with the proper training to hone those skills, you’re setting your staff and your organization up for long term success.
Recognition supports retention
The 2023 DSP Survey Report found that DSPs who were satisfied with the way their organization shows appreciation were more likely to enjoy being with the people they support and feel satisfied working for their organization.
While not all the measures outlined above can be done during National DSP Recognition Week, working to create long-term recognition efforts can help you retain your DSPs and keep them engaged with your organization and their work. This will only help your mission of positively improving the life of people of IDD.
The 2023 DSP Survey Report
Download the 2023 DSP Survey Report to get even more data and insights on job satisfaction, recognition and appreciation, and career growth to improve DSP engagement and retention at your organization.DOWNLOAD THE REPORT →