How I Retained Staff When the World Turned Upside Down

Last year, Marian presented at the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore. She asked me to share some comments on how I retained my staff during the pandemic. I’d like to share them with you now. Below is my power point slide and the comments I shared.

A grid with 6 pictures of Robert and his staff. The pictures are described in the blog text.
Pictures of Robert and his staff

Hey everyone. I’m Robert. I was asked to talk about how I’ve managed to keep my staff during the pandemic.

I live in Pennsylvania and use the Participant Directed Services model. That means, I am in charge. I chose who I want to hire and I manage them. This allows me to create schedules that work for me but also the people I want to hire.

Marian was my first supports broker through Values Into Action. I asked her to share this slide so as I talk about my staff, you can see who they are. I’ll start at the top left corner.

That’s me and Matt at the opening reception for my first art exhibit. Matt’s typical schedule is all day Saturday and two overnights during the week. This works great for me because I love hanging out with him. But it also works for Matt’s family. He has two kids, one was born during the pandemic. This schedule allows him to be home during the week while his wife works during the day. Matt’s worked for me for about 4 years. Sometimes he brings his kids over for a few hours to hang out. And we usually invite him and his family to join us for Christmas Eve dinner.

Next is Omar, we’re at a baseball game. Omar’s an artist, he teaches at a local college. He works for me in the evening. We paint together and he’s helping me learn different techniques. He also invited me to join him and a group of local artists for the art exhibit Matt and I were at. Omar’s worked for me for about 8 years.

Next to Omar is Jim. We’re at a hockey game. You can tell I like sports. Jim’s worked with me for about 9 years. He’s with me 3 days a week. I work for Self Advocates United as One, he helps me with the Zoom meetings. And we read a lot of books together. We also take online classes together.

Below Jim is Kris. I’ve known Kris and his family for about 15 years, and he’s worked for me for about 10 years. We’re over at his house hanging out in his pool, it was a hot day! Kris works for me all day Sunday and Friday through Saturday morning. He has a young daughter, Lilly, so this schedule allows him to be home during the week to take care of his family. We offered him a different schedule a few years ago. His wife called and said please don’t change his schedule, she likes that he only works on the weekend! Every few years he takes a couple weeks off to go to Bulgaria to see his parents. Everyone else covers his shifts for him. And he’s always the first to volunteer to cover for them!

Next to Kris is me. And next to me is a group shot. It was my birthday, and most of my staff stopped by to celebrate with me. That’s my sister with her arm around me. The guy in the right-hand corner is Keith with his arm around his son. Keith’s been working with me for about 5 years. He helps me program my communication device for work and we run errands. When we have down time, we like to watch movies and talk about them.

All of my staff help me with everything I need to do, my personal needs, and managing my health.

I tried to think if there’s anything we did different during the pandemic, but there’s really not much. We make sure we have masks available. We made adjustments to schedules when schools shut down. But the staff who don’t have kids covered for them. They’ve been with me for so long, they’re like family. And we treat them that way. If we’re having family dinner, they join us. If anyone has a personal problem that requires missing work, everyone else jumps in to cover. If we go on vacation, we take them with us.

I think the reason I have been successful with retaining staff is I treat them the same way I expect to be treated. With dignity, respect, and kindness. If they make a mistake, and who hasn’t done that, we talk about it and come up with solutions that work for all of us. If they have a family emergency or tragedy, we show empathy. Even when it creates a small hiccup with my schedule for the day. We work as a team. I can’t express how much my life has improved since these people became a part of it. They are my paid employees, but they are also my friends. And I know every one of them considers me their friend as well.

I think if you treat your staff well, pay them a decent wage, and let them know they are valued, they will stay. I think that applies whether they work through an agency or a self-directed model. All of my staff have shared with me, and my family, that even on the bad days, they love their job. That makes me happy.