Frontline Initiative Change

The Pros and Cons of Staff Turnover


R.E. Scott, Jr. is a DSP for ARC in San Diego, California

Working in the field of social services for just two years, I’ve already seen numerous staff come and go. Some opt for better paying jobs, some don’t realize exactly what they’re getting into when they start, others just get burned out. But for whatever reason, many leave. While usually thought of as a bad thing, I find that the high rate of staff turnover has both a bad and a good side.

First, the bad side. The people who experience the most disruption from staff turnover are the consumers of services. Those who receive supports are affected in a number of ways, ranging from losing a friend to inconsistency with the types of assistance they receive. A lot of consumers don’t have many friends or much family contact, so they rely mostly on the staff for the human connection that we all need. Often, as soon as a consumer finds that connection in a staff person, the staff quits or moves on. Many staff do not realize the effect this has on a person. Just imagine yourself learning to trust someone, and the next day they’re gone. Then you have to start the process all over again, again, and again. I’ve worked with people who hardly ever open up or get used to staff, and I would wonder why. Now I know.

Inconsistency with daily activities and disruption of routines are other problems caused by staff turnover. When I started working in the group home, many of the challenging behaviors displayed by the people who lived there increased. Why? Because changes in staff affect every part of their lives.

Now the good side. One positive aspect of turnover is that new staff members bring new ideas. I worked with a staff member who came from another part of the country and the agency in which she had previously worked did things differently. Her new ideas resulted in the consumers going out to new and exciting places, and new approaches on how to respond to people when they displayed undesirable behaviors. After this new person started, you could definitely see a change for the better in the people to whom we provided supports. 

Another positive side of staff turnover is that people who feel burned out leave. In this field, when staff gets burned out, the consumers suffer most. When the staff do not enjoy what they’re doing, enthusiasm drops, job performance declines, and consumers lose essential support.

Although turnover has a positive side, it is definitely too high. In the two years that I’ve been in this field, I’ve seen many different faces come and go. In fact, of the entire group I trained in with two years ago, only two (including myself) of about twenty still remain. People had various reasons for leaving: some found better jobs, some needed more money, others went back to school, etc. Whatever the case, this rate of turnover greatly influences the lives of the people who receive supports and many staff probably do not realize how much their departure affects people’s lives. As we look to the future in providing services, we must give staff better alternatives. There will always be turnover, but if staff are leaving for reasons we can control (esteem, co-worker difficulties, better opportunities), we can decrease the rate of turnover, and the people who receive their services will have better lives.