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DSP Retention: Nurture Your Newbies, Reward Your Veterans

According to the National Core Indicators, the average rate of turnover for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) is 45.5%. Every year, service providers must bring on 574,200 new DSPs just to sustain the current level of service.

In their efforts to retain staff, IDD and ABA service providers may have overlooked a resource that is right under their noses — their current, most experienced DSPs.

Having your best DSPs serve as peer mentors for your new hires is a cost-effective way to reduce turnover. A peer mentor is an experienced DSP who works with a new hire through the onboarding process and provides ongoing support and guidance.

While implementing a peer mentorship program is not free, it is much less expensive than training replacements for frustrated newbies or unappreciated veterans. It gives you the opportunity to recognize and reward the expertise of your best DSPs. And as mentors, those DSPs will nurture your new hires, improving their performance and increasing the likelihood they will stay on.

Frustrations That Lead to Turnover

When we talk to DSPs around the nation, we hear the same frustrations and challenges over and over.

One of the big ones is simply not knowing what they’re getting into when they start the job. The realities of a DSP’s job depend in large part on the needs of the person they are supporting. A mentor can help a DSP understand what is truly involved in providing daily support – from performing personal-care tasks to supporting informed decision-making.

Another big frustration we hear from DSPs is that they receive inadequate support from their often-overworked supervisors. A peer mentor can fill in that gap by sharing their experiences and providing guidance to help newbies through difficult or frustrating times.

By helping providers address a few of the common reasons why new DSPs leave their jobs, a peer mentorship program can reduce the stress on supervisors and alleviate some of the challenges that come with onboarding new staff.

Creating a Peer Mentorship Program for DSPs

Like any other initiative, the keys to creating a successful peer mentoring program include building buy-in and determining how you will evaluate effectiveness. As you plan your program, ask the following questions:

1. What are my goals?

Make sure everyone in management and the DSPs you choose to be mentors understand and support the goals. That may mean letting the DSPs peek “behind the curtain” so they understand the problems employee turnover creates and its effect on the budget. This will help them understand the importance of the mission, and it will demonstrate your respect for them as a partner in making the peer mentorship program successful.

2. Who needs to be on board?

Nothing will sink a peer mentorship program faster than having QPs and DSPs complaining about it. You want everyone who comes in contact with your new hires to be a cheerleader for the program and talking up how it will benefit the DSPs and your clients.

3. How will I know if it’s a success?

Take a look at your DSP turnover during the past several years. What percentage of DSPs left within three months of being hired? Within six months? Twelve months? That will give you retention benchmarks by which to judge the peer mentorship program. Determining if the DSP mentees are better at their job will be harder to measure. Client surveys and direct observations may help.


Increasing DSP Retention Through Peer Mentoring Programs

In my recent webinar, I outlined a step-by-step process for setting up a successful peer mentorship program. Watch now to learn more about how peer mentorship can benefit your organization.

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