DSP Retention Strategies: How To Hang On to the Staff You Have

Yes, DSPs are leaving the profession in droves — but there are steps you can take to slow turnover and keep your best employees from walking out the door.

dsp retention

Across the country, employers in nearly every industry are short staffed. Even McDonald’s has raised hourly wages by 10% in an effort to keep its restaurants open amid labor shortages. What’s more, a record number of Americans are quitting their jobs.


The disability services industry is no exception. Our recent staffing crisis survey shows that DSP turnover has been worse than usual during the pandemic. To make matters worse, the number of new DSPs entering the field is not keeping pace with demand. 


Knowing this, it’s more important than ever for disability service agencies to fight for the staff they have.


Some of the factors that drive DSPs away from the field might be out of your control. On your own, you might not be able to change the low service rates in your state or hand out raises to every employee. 


Still, there’s a lot you can do to prevent your best staff from walking out the door. Here are 7 proven strategies for DSP retention:

1. Establish a mentoring program

For new DSPs, the first year is particularly challenging. Even individuals who have previous experience supporting people with disabilities — say, a friend or family member — may find it difficult to adjust to the demands of their new role. 


That’s where mentoring comes in. Research in other fields, such as teaching and nursing, has repeatedly shown that mentoring programs are an effective way to increase employee retention. 


Mentoring programs provide new DSPs with both professional and emotional support. Mentees learn new skills, build their confidence, and develop strong relationships with their colleagues.


And there are benefits for mentors, too. Mentoring gives veteran DSPs a way to pass on their expertise. Not only that, but being selected as a mentor shows senior employees that their experience is valued. It’s a win-win situation all around.

2. Provide opportunities for professional development & promote from within

Once they enter the field, additional training opportunities are at the top of many DSPs’ wishlists. Training helps DSPs develop confidence in their skills and ability to support their clients. Furthermore, providing training opportunities shows employees that you are invested in their success, which can make a huge difference in how they feel about their jobs.


All DSPs, no matter how long they’ve been in the field, should have access to opportunities for additional training. In addition, DSPs who want to advance their career should have a clear path to move up in the organization or to move around within the company until they find the right fit. 


Although it’s fairly common for disability service agencies to promote from within, and many frontline supervisors were once DSPs, many DSPs aren’t aware of their organization’s process for promotion. 


That’s a big problem: Research shows that only 7% of employees who advance their career do so with their current employer. If DSPs can see an opportunity to climb the ladder within their current company, they’re less likely to move around. On the other hand, employees who feel like they’re in a dead end job will almost certainly leave. 

3. Provide all the perks

Low wages are one of the biggest reasons for DSP turnover. And while many disability service agencies are advocating for higher rates, they simply can’t compete with the hourly wages and bonuses that big companies like McDonald’s and Amazon are offering. To make up for that, agencies should consider what other types of perks they can offer. 


For example, many DSPs have expressed an interest in flexible work arrangements. Whether this means scheduling their own appointments or continuing with remote services, providing more flexibility and autonomy can make staying in their current role more appealing. Not only that, but it shows DSPs that you trust them to get the job done without micromanaging — something that many workers say their bosses do.


Other popular perks include ample paid time off, healthcare benefits, employee wellness programs, childcare support and opportunities to lead initiatives. Of course, you don’t have to stop there. When it comes to which perks you offer, the only limit is your imagination.


Some creative non-monetary perks to consider:


  • Holiday celebrations like margaritas and tacos on Cinco de Mayo
  • Costume or theme days
  • Gym passes/yoga classes
  • Team lunches & happy hours
  • Complimentary coffee station with special syrups and creamers
  • Work-from-home 
  • Tuition assistance
  • Paid volunteer days
  • Puzzles in the break room
  • Concierge service to run employees’ errands


In short, think about ways to make your workplace a fun place to be and give back to the people that are serving for you!

4. Upgrade your technology

Technology is a common source of frustration for DSPs. Oftentimes, DSPs don’t have access to mobile devices like laptops, tablets, or cell phones needed to do their work. And even if they do, outdated software can make completing documentation a major chore. As a result, many DSPs feel that paperwork gets in the way of supporting the people they serve. 


With the rise of EVV and remote services, updating slow, outdated technology has become a pressing issue. It’s more important than ever for agencies to ensure that DSPs have access to mobile devices and modern IDD management software


If that’s not reason enough, consider this: 49% of employees would consider leaving their current job if they’re unhappy with workplace tech. Knowing this, leaders should either update their existing technology or prepare for DSPs to leave.

5. Show your appreciation

Many DSPs say they love their jobs but feel underappreciated. 


Recognizing DSPs for their contribution is one of the easiest things you can do, and you might be surprised how far a few words of appreciation will go toward helping retain employees. Employee recognition has been shown to boost productivity, improve team culture, and reduce turnover. 


Yet, many employers overlook this simple act. One Gallup survey found that 65% of employees haven’t received any form of recognition for good work in the last year. No wonder so many of them decide to leave even though they love what they do!

6. Improve communication

A common complaint among DSPs is that managers don’t communicate important information to them. For instance, a supervisor might tell day shift workers about a policy change, but that information doesn’t always get relayed to the night shift. This can lead to frustration, resentment, and eventually, quitting.


Working to improve communication — say, by using an internal communication system like SETWorks to keep your team informed — can eliminate a lot of these issues and improve DSP retention. 


Likewise, DSPs want to feel that their voices are heard. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this. Organizations that listened openly to concerns and empathized with their employees were able to build trust and loyalty. On the flip side, DSPs who felt their concerns were brushed off or ignored lost faith in their employers. This is why it’s so important for supervisors to actively listen to employees and, even more importantly, act on their input.


7. Train your leaders

By now, you’ve heard the saying “People quit bosses, not jobs.” The research supports this, as 57% of employees have left a job because of their boss. This is why it’s so important to focus on training your managers to be effective leaders.


As we mentioned above, many managers were once DSPs themselves. And while they might know the disability service industry like the back of their hand, most have never had formal management training.


The skills needed to manage a team are very different from those required in their previous role. Delegating, motivating employees, and even managing conflict are all important skills for leaders. New managers will need to master these skills in order to lead their teams successfully, which in turn can go a long way toward helping people stay. 

8. Conduct retention interviews

Finally, retention or “stay” interviews can be a powerful tool to keep DSPs. A retention interview is simply a one-on-one conversation with employees to understand why they are staying with your organization and what might cause them to consider leaving. Think of it like a quarterly review with the focus of getting feedback and advice from your team. 


The benefits of this are twofold: First, it can help you identify employees who are at risk of leaving before they walk out the door. Second, it shows employees that you’re serious about keeping them on your team. 


While it might feel like there’s nothing you can do to stop staff from leaving, there’s actually a surprising amount that’s within your control. Following the seven DSP retention strategies outlined above will help make your organization a more attractive place to work and slow down the revolving door.

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