By | August 21, 2019

The Relias survey of direct support professionals received more than 830 responses from DSPs all over the country. Of those, 387 respondents said they had been a DSP for less than six years. Let’s call this subset “intermediate DSPs.”

We asked the intermediate DSPs if they thought they would still be working as a DSP a year from now. A whopping 75% said yes, and another 11% said they expect to be with the same employer but in a different position. If we look at only those DSPs who have been on the job for less than a year, 70% said they expect to stay and 16% said they expect to be with the same employer in a different position.

Those percentages are surprising given what we know about the challenges of retaining DSPs. The National Core Indicators’ 2017 Staff Stability Survey Report puts the weighted average turnover rate at 43.8%, and of those who left, half had been on the job for 12 months or fewer.

Why is the percentage of intermediate DSPs who expect to be on the job in a year so high in our survey? One reason may simply be that DSPs who love their job and are committed to it were more likely to respond to the survey. On the other hand, we all know that people who dislike their job usually jump at an opportunity to express their frustrations. It’s hard to say.

Here are some of the comments left by intermediate DSPs who say they plan to stay on the job.

“I have and still learn from the clients and staff. Being here has been a blessing to me. 🙏♥️😇”

“I love what I do and am glad I can help make each individual day happy and bright.”

“I love my girls and what I do to support them.”

“It is very rewarding work and I enjoy my job.”

“I enjoy this new career as a DSP and hope to remain in the field for many years to come.”

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, I hope some of those comments came from my DSPs!” Sorry, responses are confidential, but we bet that if you think about it, you know which of your DSPs would likely say something resembling the comments above and which ones definitely would not.

Those Staying vs. Those Leaving

There are some interesting differences in the responses of intermediate DSPs who intend to stay and those who don’t.

For the question, “What do you like most about your job?” we asked respondents to select up to three answers. A higher percentage of DSPs who intend to stay selected “I enjoy being with the people I support” than those who intend to leave (73% vs. 54%). Interestingly, those who intend to leave were more likely to select “My job is easy” than those who intend to stay (20% to 7%).

DSP Survey Results - Wahat do you like most about your job

These responses may indicate that some of the DSPs who are planning to leave do not have the empathy and compassion necessary to provide quality direct care. If so, it is certainly best that they leave the profession, but it is unfortunate that their employers will lose the time and money they put into training these DSPs.

Speaking of training, we also asked intermediate DSPs, “What topics do you think you needed more training on before you started providing direct support?” The top two answers for both DSPs who intend to stay and those who intend to leave were “The conditions/disorders of the people I support” and “Positive behavior supports/how do deal with behavior problems.” However, the percentages were higher among those who intend to leave. Those two categories of training are fundamental to being competent in providing services. This may indicate that DSPs who intend to leave were not adequately trained for their jobs, which would understandably cause frustrations and a desire to find a new job.

Challenges With Supervisors

There’s another significant difference between these two subsets of DSPs. Those who plan to leave are less satisfied with their supervisors.

For the question, “What do you dislike most about your job?” we asked respondents to select up to three answers. Of those who plan to leave the job, 44% selected “My supervisor is not supportive,” compared to only 19% of those who plan to stay.

We also asked them to select only one response to the question, “Besides increasing your pay or benefits, what is the most important thing your employer could do to keep you as an employee?” Of those who plan to leave, 16% selected “Give me a better supervisor,” compared to just 5% of those who plan to stay.

DSP Survey Results - What Do You Dislike About Your Job?

No doubt you’ve heard the saying, “People don’t quit jobs. They quit bosses.” Throughout the survey, from brand-new DSPs to those who have been on the job for decades, we received complaints about supervisors and management. Organizations may need to take a closer look at how they are preparing their front-line supervisors for leadership positions. Are you providing leadership and management training? Do your qualified intellectual disability professionals and managers know how to communicate with their subordinates, how to maintain professional boundaries and avoid the perception of favoritism, and how to deal with performance issues in a way that inspires people to do better rather than quit?

There is no question that providing effective training for your supervisors is an essential piece of any effective DSP retention effort.

Diane Morris

Diane has been researching, writing and advocating on issues facing people with IDD and autism for 15 years -- from the time her two sons were diagnosed with autism. She has more than twenty years of communications experience and previously worked at a disability rights non-profit.

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