Disability Employment Services - staff churn and burn

I am the first to admit that working in a disability employment service is demanding, complex and requires great commitment. And yet I still find it shocking – and unacceptable – that staff turnover in the sector runs at 50 per cent. It has become a ‘churn and burn’ environment.

Instability in our workforce has serious flow-on effects for our job seekers. Consistency of environment boosts the likelihood of successful and sustainable job placement. People with disability tend to place high value on routine, and knowing the people they’re working with. They may also have great difficulty with change, especially younger people. They have gaps in their ability to articulate and advocate – that’s why they need us.

We really need to be smarter at maintaining a stable workforce: at preventing burnout, providing ongoing professional development to help our staff to personally cope and deepening out understanding of people with disability.

The pressures of the job can be immense, with expectations of up to 25 job placements per month (more than one per working day). I feel that a sustainable rate (with all the necessary supports in place) would be no more than two or three placements per month. These may seem like small numbers but there’s also the rest of the caseload to take care of, time for negotiations, and on-site, post-placement facilitation of skill development and social integration.

Nowadays, there is little investment in staff training. Organisations say they can’t afford it, even though to save money they hire young and inexperienced staff. But the real costs of an overworked and stressed staff team are immense.

A strong team can begin to make up for the social isolation and dysfunctional relationships in many job seekers’ lives, providing much-needed human contact and conversation. This helps clients to become job-ready. An aware and professional team also presents a more positive job-seeker image to potential employers and co-workers.

Ongoing, carefully targeted professional development is essential: staff simply cannot give if they haven’t taken in. A good program protects new employees from naïve mistakes, sharpens their skills and supports practice with international research. It enables staff to share information and experiences, solve problems collectively and recharge their batteries.

This field attracts people who care, many of them with first-hand experience of family or friends with disability. We need to teach them, value them and give them access to the rewards of their job.

- Martin Wren

You can read more about this in my book The Ten Demandments. Get in touch, if you want a copy.