By | February 11, 2020

For organizations that provide services to individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, there has been much research around the problem of turnover among direct support professionals. But what about supervisors—house managers, team leaders, program managers, qualified intellectual disability professionals (QIDPs) and others who are responsible for ensuring compliance and service quality?

DSP turnover can negatively impact your supervisors’ morale, especially if they’re spending most of their efforts backfilling DSPs or working direct support shifts themselves, which leaves less time for them to supervise employees who remain.

The five tips below can help you proactively address the issues that face your supervisors so you can nurture and work to retain these key members of your staff.

1. When Recruiting IDD Supervisors, Emphasize the Positive Things About the Position

You know that being a supervisor can be a complex and stressful job. But when you are recruiting for a new supervisor, focus on the positive things that drew them to this line of work, and include the reasons your existing supervisors enjoy working at your organization. For example, emphasize the opportunity to:

  • Try new responsibilities, to advance and to contribute in a larger way
  • Use their expertise to support a benevolent organization
  • Provide services to their community while leading others
  • Enjoy independence, a fantastic support system and appreciative management
  • Grow into a leadership role

2. Communicate Clearly and Often

Effective communication is the backbone of service planning and delivery. Sharing information is important but so is the way it is delivered. Keep the following strategies in mind when communicating to your IDD supervisors:

  • Provide a clear set of role expectations along with ongoing feedback
  • Keep them in the loop and ask for their input into decisions and changes
  • Offer big-picture details or an understanding of the “game plan”
  • Ensure honest, transparent communication from upper management
  • Respect their preferred method of communication
  • Foster a culture in which their opinions and concerns are validated

3. Proactively Find Solutions to Retain Your Supervisors

Creating a work environment in which your supervisors want to stay takes work. Consider the following actions to get started:

  • Identify their stressors so you can find ways to reduce them
  • Understand what motivates them—what would cause them to leave and what makes them stay
  • Demonstrate your support by helping when things get overwhelming, communicating regularly and recognizing a job well done
  • Demonstrate support from upper management by creating opportunities for non-degreed professionals to advance or by providing support for administrative tasks

4. Offer Opportunities for Leadership Development

Developing your IDD supervisors into leaders benefits not only them, but also your DSPs, the individuals they serve and your entire organization. One way you can accomplish this is through an effective supervisor or QIDP training program that includes basic managerial components such as communication, time management, relationship building, and giving and receiving feedback. It is important to note that various levels of experience, education and background result in different development needs. You can determine this through observation, feedback and assessments. Other opportunities for leadership development can include:

  • Conferences related to their field
  • Special assignments and the support to do them
  • Mentorship from a senior leader or outside professional
  • General leadership training
  • Support to further their education outside of work
  • Involvement in groups like The Arc or ANCOR’s Leadership Academy

5. Provide Ongoing Development

To nurture and retain your IDD supervisors, it is not enough to only offer opportunities for leadership development. Demonstrate your investment in their long-term career growth at your organization by providing opportunities for continuous growth and development. Begin by identifying their goals (educational aspirations, career advancement, personal goals, work/life balance) and how you can help achieve them. Also, explore a variety of ways they can obtain knowledge:

  • Conferences
  • Webinars
  • Online training
  • Opportunities to give their feedback
  • Association memberships
  • Industry newsletters
  • Professional references
  • Chances to explore other positions within your organization

Getting the Balance Right

The role of a front-line supervisor is a challenging one that deserves the respect of upper management. The job is rewarding, but it requires a careful balance of face-to-face support and opportunities to work autonomously. Reducing your supervisors’ workloads—through support systems, automation or eliminating unnecessary tasks—will help, as will recognizing opportunities for growth. It is important to remember that your supervisors’ success equals your organization’s success.

Additionally, providing tools for supervisors to improve staff performance and increase DSP retention will likely benefit their own engagement and retention at your organization. For more information on this, watch the webinar, Ask the Expert: How to Provide Strong Supervision in IDD.

Jeanine D’Alusio

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Jeanine spends her days writing for the Health and Human Services industry at Relias. Before her career in marketing, she worked extensively in human resources and learning and development. Jeanine has more than 10 years of nonprofit experience, including as an HR Director at a multiservice behavioral health and community services organization. Jeanine is also a licensed massage therapist who enjoys helping her clients feel better in her spare time.

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