- 8 Ways to Retain DSP Staff


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8 Ways to Retain DSP Staff


As we enter DSP Week 2020, The Arc Gloucester has taken time to reflect upon and consider the Direct Support Professional staffing shortage. We want to understand why such a shortage exists, and the remedies and steps we can take to fix the issue.

Without our DSP Staff, the Arc Gloucester would not exist. Our job is to help them to succeed, grow and climb the ladder in the I/DD world.

Some important facts to consider, according to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities’ 2017 Report:

  • The national average for annual turnover rate of DSPs is 45%
  • To combat that turnover rate, we need approximately 574,200 new DSPs every year, just to maintain current levels of service.
  • 9% of all available DSP positions go unfilled

As part of our reflection, we utilized Relias’ 2019 survey on Direct Support Professionals. The findings were highly informative. We are committed to supporting our DSP staff as much as possible to increase motivation to grow within The Arc Gloucester.

The work DSPs do is hard, challenging, and sometimes draining. And yet, many DSPs show up to work with love and passion for the work they do. Many DSPs mentioned they stay with agencies due to their love of the job, and the fact that they can see a clear difference in the lives of the individuals they serve. Emotional connections are made, and DSPs long to see their individuals thriving and succeeding in their communities.

When asked the reason for staying in the field, “Long serving DSPs,” or those who have served six or more years in the field say “I make a difference of the lives of those I support,” and “I enjoy being with the people I support.” Many DSPs reported a sense of purpose and the thrill of teaching the individuals new skills as factors in staying with an agency.

Sadly, many DSPs are discouraged from staying with an agency due to the lack of compensation, unsupportive management, lack of appreciation and lack of communication.

The takeaway? DSPs stay when appreciated and valued.

There are solutions to the staffing crisis, and we can take action on them immediately. Some suggestions for retaining the DSP workforce:

  1. Treat your DSPs like partners. Let them have a deciding factor in decision making. These staff members are “in the trenches,” and understand our program needs and our individuals on a deep level. Solicit their opinion as decisions are made, and listen when they have suggestions.
  2. Increase transparency around the decision making process. Do your DSPs understand where funding for our agency comes from? Do the DSPs at your organization feel they understand where your agency is at, financially? Have you looped your DSPs into decisions? What can you do to be more transparent as changes and updates are made?
  3. Leadership should be visible to the DSPs at the programs. Visit a few times a year, get to know your DSP staff, spend time at the programs to understand what the day to day looks like for a DSP.
  4. Consider creating a DSP Leadership Team. Ask DSPs to become a member of a team that facilitates regular touchpoints between the Executive Staff and the DSP staff. Solicit their opinions, take action on their suggestions, and involve them in agency changes and updates where possible. Provide educational materials on where the agency stands financially, with staffing, and efforts to support the staff in their jobs. Consider asking DSPs to join committees that plan events, lead advocacy efforts, and more! The more involved they are, the better.
  5. Provide education on the conditions and disorders they may be working with. Better education for your DSPs can facilitate positive outcomes when DSPs are faced with difficult or challenging decisions. Informed DSPs are more likely to be compassionate and understanding when complications arise.
  6. Provide training for upper management and supervisors. Encourage training amongst supervisors and management regarding leadership, motivation, and different management styles. DSPs stay when they feel their supervisors are equipped to lead and can support them through their journey.
  7. Inform DSPs of opportunities to grow within your agency. Help DSPs to see this job as a career, one that involves growth and stability. Create incentives to stay within the agency, like milestone awards, regular luncheons or meals with leadership, and Q&A opportunities with former DSPs turned leaders within the agency. Create a culture of longevity, and the results will likely be favorable!
  8. Hire the right people. Staffing shortages and crises can make agencies jump to hire quickly, but this can lead to high turnover as hiring the wrong people is as it sounds: wrong. Individuals who are not fit for the job will not stay. Spend the necessary time vetting your candidates and make sure they are truly a good fit for the agency, and capable of handling the day-to-day responsibilities of a DSP.


When all is said and done, DSPs need to be appreciated as valued, respected and important members of your staff. The Arc Gloucester is committed to furthering its efforts to cultivate long standing DSPs. We continue to strive to understand how to support our DSP staff and grow them within our agency. Bottom line: DSPs are essential. All I/DD agencies should treat them as such.

Thank you to Relias for sharing the White Paper which informed this blog post. Click here to download it!

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