The State of America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis 2022

The longstanding direct support workforce crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to closures of critically needed services and a denial of access to community-based supports.
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Connections - 10.31.19

DSPs Speak Out: The Impact Training Can Have on Staff Retention

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By Katy Kunst, MBA, QIDP, Content Writer, Relias

The problem of high turnover among direct support professionals (DSPs) in intellectual/developmental disabilities services is well-documented. Some of the more eye-opening statistics in the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities’ 2017 report included the following:

  • The national average annual turnover rate of DSPs is 45%.
  • Given current turnover rates, the field needs 574,200 new DSPs every year.
  • The national annual cost of replacing DSPs was estimated to be $2,338,716,600 in 2015.
  • Nine percent of all available DSP positions go unfilled.

To get a better understanding of the causes behind the numbers, Relias surveyed over 800 direct support professionals who offered frank opinions on issues such as training, support from supervisors, and the likelihood of remaining in their current positions in the near-term. Understanding and addressing these issues is critical to the success of any facility looking to avoid the costs associated with hiring and staff turnover.

Key Findings

Some of the survey’s key findings include:

  • The Importance of the Supervisor Relationship
    Lack of appreciation, poor communication, and inadequate supervision and accountability for co-workers were frequently mentioned.
     
  • The Need for Better-Trained Supervisors
    Courses to help supervisors understand the importance of avoiding preferential treatment, tamping down work politics, showing appreciation, and providing clear and consistent communication could improve the work environment for DSPs in your organization.
     
  • The Way To Encourage DSPs to Stay
    DSPs want to be treated as partners by their supervisors and upper management. DSPs are the ones “in the trenches,” and they have ideas on how to better serve specific individuals and how to improve program operations. “Let the DSP workers have a deciding factor in decisions, as we work with [clients] daily and hands-on. Higher up management does not,” one DSP wrote.
     
  • Challenges with Supervisors
    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 Disabilities Professionals (QIDPs) and managers know how to communicate with their staff, 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?

The Big Take-Aways

The DSP workforce crisis is not just “a fact of life.” It is a problem with real drivers and real solutions. We found that the following could be critical in reducing turnover and increasing employment longevity in DSPs:

  • Show more appreciation. DSPs need to know that when they do good work or go above and beyond, someone notices and appreciates their efforts.
  • Show more respect. DSPs are an invaluable resource for information and ideas on programs, policies, and the goals of individuals. Engage them in conversations at all levels of the organization.
  • Hire the right people. Organizations also need to take into account how much hiring the wrong people costs. DSPs are frustrated by co-workers who don’t take the job seriously and don’t provide quality care, and that leaves them feeling overworked and taken advantage of.
  • Provide leadership and management training to your front-line supervisors. DSPs want supervisors and QIDPs who are supportive and appreciative, who hold everyone accountable, and who proactively address conflicts and problems.

These skills require training. Providing your front-line supervisors with education on communication, leadership, constructive feedback, and conflict resolution is an essential part of any effective DSP retention strategy.

Katy Kunst, MBA, QIDP, a Content Writer for Morrisville, NC-based Relias, received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her Master of Business Administration from Elon University. She has 12 years of experience working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.