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6 Proven Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Talent in Human Services

In 2016, the turnover rate for Direct Support Professionals rose to a staggering 51%. Although there are admittedly many barriers that human services agencies face when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees, this number is extremely high. And with over half of most agencies’ staff being replaced every year, it becomes not only increasingly expensive to replace employees (the average turnover cost at $3,000-$5,000 per employee), but there’s also a direct impact on existing staff who are burdened with an increased workload and on the clients who receive a lower quality of care.

While the barriers that deter qualified employees from choosing a career in human services and the everyday challenges that drive existing staff out of the sector are tangible, they’re not unchangeable. If your organization is looking to tackle this challenge head on, here are 6 strategies human service organizations can utilize in order to combat recruitment issues and retain quality talent:


In order to retain quality Support Professionals, human service agencies need to be more selective in the individuals they hire. This may sound counter-productive considering the current difficulties in hiring new staff, but it takes a special type of person to work in human services, especially considering the high stress level that comes with the job. Rather than hiring the first person they can find in order to quickly fill a vacancy, human service agencies need to be highly-selective in their hiring and find someone who not only can do the work, but is passionate about it and plans to remain in their role long-term. Ensuring you cover the must-ask questions when interviewing a Direct Support Worker, such as “If you were delivering personal care to a client, how would you go about your duties while keeping their dignity and respect?” will ensure you hire someone who has a passion for the work and clearly understands the challenges and demands of the role.


The collaborative nature of mentoring programs helps develop individuals’ interpersonal and professional skills, increasing overall employee satisfaction and engagement. Through mentoring, employees see themselves as a vital part of the organization while creating a heightened level of accountability and ownership for their responsibilities and program success. Administration should facilitate an “open door” policy where staff feel that their opinions can be voiced, their ideas can be heard, and their concerns can be addressed. These factors all lead to happier employees and a better retention rate for a stronger, more effective organization.


Data collection can be an extremely difficult and time consuming task if your organization uses multiple systems to manage your operations. When staff members are constantly importing and exporting data to comply with grant reporting requirements, there’s less time available to serve clients. This can also be a major cause of employee stress and burnout. By streamlining your data collection and utilizing an integrated system, employees can save time and energy while still meeting all of the data reporting requirements for their funders.


Human services agencies should further consider how to effectively utilize volunteers to assist with their day-to-day operations. Often, human service organizations view volunteers as a burden – people who have to be intensively trained and closely monitored, taking staff time and attention away from program duties and responsibilities. However, qualified, passionate volunteers can be a valuable resource for assisting with program and service delivery to agencies that cannot afford to hire additional staff. Volunteers can assist with the workload and even handle some of the less technical aspects of the job, such as data entry and documentation. This would free up Direct Support Workers who are usually swamped with paperwork and other tedious tasks.

One of the best ways to help manage volunteers effectively is to have a detailed and structured Volunteer Handbook that includes training information, responsibilities, and what to do in the case of an emergency so that volunteers are well-equipped to be effective in their roles.


ERNs are private and public partnerships that help improve talent retention and engagement through employee support and training. These organizations are governed by a Board of Directors with members from contributing organizations that pool together funds from annual employer membership fees, public funds, and foundation grants. Most of the funding is targeted toward improving employee job retention and training activities that provide long-term savings for participating organizations. Some of the many benefits of joining an Enterprise Resource Network include:


Depending on the size of the ERN, most members pay fees that range from $5,000-$8,000 annually. With the average cost to replace an employee being $3,000, an ERN can quickly and easily allow you to see a return on your investment. Additionally, partnering with organizations that share the same passions and have the same goals as yours benefits everyone involved.


It’s important for human services organizations to research and explore different grants as an additional source of funding. Some grants allocate funding to be specifically used for workforce retention, such as the Healthier Buckeye Grant in Ohio. The aim of this grant is to encourage collaboration at the community level between businesses, social services, health care providers, and other organizations to yield streamlined processes and infrastructure that can assist low income employees. The state budget in Ohio for 2017 identified $6.5 million for Healthier Buckeye Grants. That kind of funding could really make an impact!

If you have talented staff that add value to your organization on a daily basis, then an effective retention strategy is imperative if you want to secure their services long-term. Part of this strategy should include identifying the challenges your employees are facing and actively looking for solutions to address these challenges. If your organization fails to identify and implement an effective retention strategy, it will be extremely difficult to maintain a high standard of operational efficiency and continue providing clients with quality services.

If you want to ensure you’re managing the people on your team in the most effective way possible, our Effortless Employee Management eBook outlines you how you can become a Management Magician within your organization.

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