This is a paid placement/advertisement by RMIT.

How can you attract and keep a good support worker? It’s the million dollar question. Below, we set out key points from research we’ve been doing at RMIT and from research published by others – exploring ways to recruit and retain good support workers.

What do we know so far?

People directly engaging a disability support worker are often happier with the support they receive because they have greater control over who they employ, the hours worked, and the tasks they can ask the support worker to do.

But what makes a support worker more likely to stay in the role? And what helps attract top-quality workers?

For support workers, a positive relationship with the person they support (and their family) is absolutely essential. Support workers are happier, and stay longer in the role, if they feel that:

  • the relationship with the person they support is friendly;
  • they are treated with respect;
  • their work is meaningful and satisfying;
  • they are appreciated;
  • job flexibility allows them to have a life outside of work.
  • they are paid a decent amount.

We also know there are some factors that can make a support worker unhappy in their job:

  • If relationships are not positive;
  • If pay is so low that workers struggle to pay their bills;
  • Schedules that impact too much on workers’ lives, for example, split shifts or very short shifts, or irregular schedules;
  • Long travel times back and forth from home to work to do multiple short shifts.

Are there some ways to get help?

Smiling family

There are many useful guides online to help families directly engage or employ their own support workers, including how to think about what qualities and skills you’re looking for and how to interview applicants.

This guide from the NDIA gives you an overview of everything you need to do to meet your legal obligations and do background checks.

For support workers who haven’t had formal training, this guide provides lots of helpful ideas on all aspects of support work, from how to provide enabling support, through to issues of confidentiality and safety. 

So if you’re thinking about hiring a support worker directly (after you’ve checked out the hiring options and legal requirements), you can get off to a good start by thinking really carefully about what qualities and skills you need, the kinds of times you’ll want support, and how much flexibility you’d like from your support worker. Be very upfront about those requirements in your advertisement, and make sure your interview questions cover all of those things. (Have a look online for Australian and British guides on how to do that.)

Then, once you’ve engaged a support worker, maintaining a good working relationship is all about communication: make sure you openly discuss both your needs and theirs right from the start; if you’re able to meet their needs as well as your own – particularly around schedules – you’re more likely to achieve a much better, longer-lasting working relationship. Keep checking in to find out if the arrangements are still working for them.

This will create space for either of you to openly and respectfully discuss anything either of you would like to do differently.  And express your appreciation for their work whenever you can – this simple action can make support workers feel positive, motivated and happy in their work.

You can help us learn more too!

Our team of researchers at RMIT thinks the above is a good start, but we also think there’s more to explore. We are trying to find out how disability support work is being affected by the NDIS. We would love to speak with support workers who are self-employed under the NDIS, or have been directly engaged by a person receiving NDIS funding for at least a few months. All participants will receive a $50 Coles-Myer gift voucher to thank you for your time.

If you’re interested in helping us with our research, please get in touch. We can do the interviews on the phone, or if you’re in the north/north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, we can meet somewhere local to you. Interviews will probably take around 50 minutes.

Please phone or text us on 0484 570 612 or (03) 9925 5940, or email Fiona Macdonald at [email protected].  

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