Staff Retention: What, Why, and How

You work hard to make sure everything is perfect in your classroom, center, or office, and hire (or acquire) staff to help it run smoothly. Even with everything in place, systems a-go, and expectations clear, staff burn out and leave. Turn over is high in our fields of human services and education, so this comes as no surprise. But with each resignation notice, the hard works comes to the surface again and you feel like you need to start over. So what's the solution? How can we get ahead of this seemingly constant hamster wheel of staff turnover?

What is Staff Retention?

Staff retention refers to the ability to maintain staff. This can be represented by a statistic (e.g. retention rate of 75% indicates that the company kept 75% of its employees in a given period). For the purposes of this discussion, staff or employee retention refers to the efforts by which employers attempt to retain their employees. For us, the strategies used to retain staff are much more important than the outcome or statistics of our own agencies.

Why is it Important?

Dissatisfaction with our jobs can become pervasive and disruptive. It can yield a decrease in effectiveness and productivity, and increases what many call "toxicity" in the workplace. If any of you have worked with those who are dissatisfied with their job (or if you, yourself, have experienced this), you know how disruptive this can be to the work environment. 

How Do I Retain Staff?

Most people think about compensation when they think about retaining their staff, and yes, this is contributing factor. However, how many of this are in the field of human services or education for the huge paycheck? Exactly. Our jobs are so much more than just our net worth. According to Learning Policy Institute, teachers leave the profession for a multitude of reasons, such as: lack of support, inadequate preparation, and challenging work conditions. (Check out this infographic for more information). Let's look at how best to meet these factors head-on to help decrease staff turn over...

Inadequate Preparation: We cannot fix the issues of new teachers and staff coming out of school with little to no preparation for the school or center environment. But what we can do is prepare them for the expectations for out job, by providing them with all the information and necessary skills prior to hiring. Even before we ask potential new hires in for an interview, we should be reviewing our job postings to ensure our job posting is valid and match what the actual job requires of staff. Do an audit of sorts to see if what you have in your job description matches what the job actually entails. If it doesn't, revise your posting before submitting it for applicants. During the interview process, we can and should be providing all the information about what to expect on the job, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If staff are unprepared for the reality of their job, we cannot expect them to figure it out alone. Which is why we need to increase our support...

Lack of Support: This is huge and needs to be addressed head-on. We can't let our new hires (or any of our employees for that matter), flounder aimlessly and then wonder why they aren't performing to our standards. No one should be expected to train themselves for a new job they are unfamiliar with alone. Continue to provide necessary content-related trainings, yes. But also do not forget about other meaningful trainings that will help staff deal with some of the unique challenges of their positions. Trainings can be made optional, or allow staff to choose a couple for a long list of potential trainings that can help them succeed in the field. Allow set times that each staff can meet with their supervisor. Have an open-door policy for staff to come discuss challenges, or have set times to meet with a team of your supervisees. In the classroom, this might look like having a set recurring time that you and your paraprofessionals are meeting. Sometimes this meeting will be tailored to a specific topic, such as introducing a new curricula or going over a behavior plan. Other times the agenda will be more of an open forum, where you and your paras can discuss some of the challenges and figure out how to solve them together. Creating a culture of open-communication will allow your staff to feel heard and supported without lots of extra effort on your part.

Challenging Work Conditions: Similarly, when our work conditions are challenging and we have little to no support, our work and mental health suffers. Our jobs are challenging - that is the nature of the work we do. However, when these challenges are compounded with lack of adequate training and support, paired with inadequate compensation, the job can feel nearly impossible. By providing the necessary support described above as well as fostering a culture for collaboration, these challenging work conditions can feel more manageable.

Though we cannot always increase monetary compensation to ease the burden of these challenges, we can incentivize productivity in other ways. Read How to Reinforce Your Staff for ideas for staff retention.

ABA at Play: antecedent manipulations, reinforcement, treatment integrity, measurement validity, teaching strategies, scientific research, evidence-based practices, staff training, preference assessments, socially significant behavior, individualized supports

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