High turnover and low retention of direct support professionals (DSPs) continues to be a top-of-mind concern for intellectual and developmental (IDD) providers. For several years now, the national turnover rate for DSPs has lingered around 50%, with some agencies having as many as one-in-eight DSP roles consistently vacant.
While low wages are commonly a factor in high turnover, what other factors can organizations address to combat turnover and support DSPs?
Relias, in partnership with the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), is excited to release the 2023 DSP Survey Report, which offers a deeper diver into trends uncovered in the 2019 and 2021 reports, with more targeted findings on:
- Appreciation, recognition, and well-being
- Career advancement, training, and growth
- DSP supervision
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 2023 DSP Survey Report
The goal of the 2023 DSP Survey Report was to better understand the field at large, as well as the issues DSPs face. To gather this data, we surveyed 763 DSPs from across the country. From these responses, we uncovered several steps that organizations can take to improve their culture and DSP workplace well-being.
Appreciation: Recognizing your direct support professionals
Everyone likes to feel rewarded for a job well done. DSPs are no different.
Those respondents who reported that they were satisfied with working for their current organization were significantly more likely to be satisfied with how their organization shows appreciation.
Figuring out how and when to recognize the great work of your DSPs can have a significant impact on staff retention, and consequently, the efficacy of care provided to persons served.
Results from the survey showed that most DSPs (80%) deemed it very or extremely important to receive recognition from their supervisors, with 64% preferring their supervisor to provide this recognition in private. This has held consistent over the past several years. In 2021, 84% of respondents reported they felt that it was it very or extremely important to receive recognition from their supervisors, with 69% preferring this recognition to be given in private.
In both 2021 and 2023, a slight majority of respondents reported feeling satisfied with the ways their organization shows recognition. In 2021, 51% reported feeling somewhat to completely satisfied, while 52% reported feeling the same in 2023. While these numbers are not poor, they leave room for improvement.
To help improve these satisfaction scores, organizations should look to provide their DSPs with more one-on-one recognition. When it comes time to recognize your DSPs’ incredible work, have their supervisor schedule some time to discuss their contributions in the supervisor’s office. Presenting them with a tangible 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
Like 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.
26% of respondents said that their organizations did not offer any career advancement programs.
This is a historical trend, as 25% of respondents to the 2021 DSP Survey reported the same.
Overall, however, things have improved. In 2021, 33% of respondents reported that they felt somewhat to completely satisfied with their organization’s career advancement programs. In our 2023 survey, this rose to 43%.
This is a promising trend that could have large benefits on DSP retention, as 56% of respondents to the 2023 survey reported that they would be very much more to extremely more likely to stay with their organization if provided with strong career advancement programs.
To help your organization begin its journey toward a culture of better training and internal advancement, we asked DSPs what type of career advancement programs they would find most impactful. Respondents reported the following:
- 38% – Organization to pay for education opportunities toward a degree
- 32% – Organization to pay for certificate program (e.g., CNA)
- 27% – Professional ladder to a leadership position in my company
- 18% – Becoming a mentor/supervisor
- 13% – Participation in a professional conference
Clearly, DSPs value learning and career advancement the most. We recognize, however, that some of these initiatives are too expensive for some organizations’ budgets. To learn more about how organizations are creating cultures of learning and career advancement in the real-world, read our post, “Creating a Learning Culture in Human Services: An Expert’s Advice.”
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 most respondents said that the ability to provide feedback was important to them, just over half (59%) reported actually feeling comfortable giving feedback. Though this represents a slight uptick from our 2021 survey when 55% of respondents reported having a safe avenue to provide feedback, this still leaves a sizable margin of respondents (41%) feeling that they cannot provide feedback for their supervisor.
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 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 2023 DSP Survey Report.
For more than a half-century, ANCOR has worked to shape policy and share solutions to strengthen the ability of community-based providers to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As the leading voice in Washington for community providers, we represent 2,000 members that operate in nearly every corner of the country to make inclusion a reality for people of all abilities.
Learn more about our partnership with ANCOR here.
The 2023 DSP Survey Report
The 2023 Relias DSP Survey Report delves into these topics and more. It covers attributes that DSPs want in a supervisor, the types of recognition programs DSPs find most valuable, recommendations on how to build a great culture at your organization, and so much more.Download Report →