The 2021 Direct Support Professional (DSP) Survey Report

High turnover and low retention of direct support professionals (DSPs) continues to be a top-of-mind concern for most intellectual and developmental (IDD) providers. The national turnover rate for DSPs is 43%, with some individual states seeing rates as high as 65%.

While low wages are commonly a factor in high turnover, what other factors can organizations address to combat turnover and create loyal employees?

Relias, in partnership with the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), is excited to release the 2021 DSP Survey Report. The 2021 DSP Survey Report dives deeper into trends uncovered in the 2019 report, with more targeted findings on:

  • DSP supervision.
  • Appreciation and recognition.
  • Career advancement and growth.

The trends of this year’s survey show that while many DSPs are satisfied with their current organizations, there is more that leaders could be doing to retain and engage their DSPs.

Overview of the 2021 DSP Survey Report

The goal of the 2021 DSP Survey Report was to better understand the field at large, as well as any issues DSPs typically face. To gather this data, we surveyed 679 DSPs across 43 states. From these responses, we found that current DSP pain points center around supervision, appreciation and recognition, and career advancement opportunities.

Appreciation: Recognizing Your Direct Support Professionals

Everyone likes to feel rewarded for a job well done. Direct support professionals are no different.

Unsurprisingly, data from the 2021 DSP Survey report showed that DSPs who were the happiest with their organization proved “much more likely” to stay with that organization. And the means by which organizations recognize and support DSPs plays a huge role in how happy these DSPs are with their place of work. Thus, figuring out how and when to recognize the great work of your DSPs can have a significant impact on staff retention and the efficacy of care provided to persons served.

Results from the survey showed that DSPs’ preferred method of recognition was receiving private, direct appreciation by their supervisors. Interestingly, most IDD organizations choose to recognize their DSPs in more public settings. So, when it comes time to recognize your DSPs’ incredible work, schedule some one-on-one time to discuss their contributions. Presenting them with a reward, such as a gift card, can also go a long way to showing what their work means to you and your organization.

Career Growth: Advancing Education and Skills

Similar to appreciation and recognition efforts, respondents reported that career advancement opportunities, including educational programs and viable paths to leadership, were extremely important. Yet, the actual availability of career advancement opportunities was lacking. Almost 25% of respondents said that their organizations did not offer any career advancement programs, with nearly 33% of dissatisfied DSPs reporting that their organization offered no career advancement programs.

Overall, DSP satisfaction with organizational career advancement programs proved lukewarm, with the majority saying they felt neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with these programs. If we dive into these numbers, 40% of DSPs said they would be much more likely to stay at their organization if it provided strong career advancement opportunities. This metric proved especially critical for early career DSPs.

Supervision: Building Healthy Relationships

When it comes to supervision, we found that DSPs who are satisfied with their supervisors are much more likely to enjoy working at their current organizations and more likely to have a safe avenue to provide feedback. We’ve said it before, providing professional feedback is a form of organizational communication and, just like any other form of communication, it must be a two-way street to be effective.

While a majority of respondents said the ability to provide feedback was important to them, just over half reported actually feeling comfortable giving feedback. If your organization does not give its direct support professionals a way to provide feedback, you can expect higher levels of employee frustration and, likely, higher turnover rates as a result.

Respect: Let Direct Support Professionals Know They Are Valued

The role of direct support professionals within IDD services is critical to advancing the equity, inclusion, and human rights of people with disabilities. We must give the utmost respect to those who give so much of their time and talent to improving the lives and upholding the dignity of those they support.

Read more data and insights about appreciation and recognition, supervision, and career advancement in the 2021 DSP Survey Report.


Relias is a proud partner of the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR). Since 2012, we have worked together to improve hiring, training, and staff retention for IDD providers and organizations. Learn more about our partnership with ANCOR here.

Jordan Baker

Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Jordan Baker is passionate about e-learning and helping learners achieve their goals. At Relias, he works with subject matter experts across disciplines to shape healthcare content designed to improve clinical practice, staff expertise, and patient outcomes.

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