What Motivates and Sustains Happy Employees?
GoodHuman and DSC have teamed up to publish new research into the disability support workforce, revealing key insights into what creates job satisfaction for people within the sector.
61% of disability support professionals have left, or considered leaving, an employer in the past 12 months.
This alarming stat is one of many findings from new research into job satisfaction within the disability support sector. Of these respondents, just under half haven’t yet made the move — so what can be done to stop them from moving on?
Results from the Australian Government’s NDIS workforce retention survey found that at least 45,900 workers leave the NDIS workforce each year. This is creating shortages over and above the 83,000 new workers needed to meet growth in demand for support services.
Right now there’s a lot of discussion at a national level around what can be done to attract more people to a career in disability support. This report will focus on those who have already chosen this career and the steps that can be taken to keep them engaged in their jobs.
In partnership with NDIS experts, DSC, we surveyed hundreds of Australian disability support professionals across frontline support work, management and administration and senior leadership. Their responses have helped us answer some of the big questions facing disability support organisations:
- What inspires people to work for a disability support organisation?
- What motivates people to stay in this career?
- What drives job satisfaction within large organisations?
- What role does company culture play in job satisfaction and likelihood of leaving an employer?
And most importantly, what can be done now to motivate and sustain happy employees within your organisation.
Use this free slide deck to share the research findings with your team, reflect on your own workplace and set an action plan.
The findings in this report come from an Australian survey developed by GoodHuman and distributed in partnership with DSC. The survey received 470 responses from disability support professionals. Respondents are predominantly female (81%) aged between 35 and 64 (83%). Half of survey respondents are frontline support workers (49%). Three-quarters of frontline respondents surveyed (75%) work either part-time or full-time, with 25% employed on a casual or independent contractor basis.
The impact of workforce shortages are being felt across many industries, but few are hit quite as hard as the disability support sector. The challenges of 2020-2021 have created what has been dubbed “the great resignation”, with many people reassessing their careers and long-term prospects in favour of flexibility and in response to health risks.
In 2023, the dust hasn’t settled yet.
61% of all respondents left, or considered leaving, an employer in the past 12 months.
31% pulled the trigger and left their employer, with a further 30% considering a move.
Lack of job satisfaction is a major catalyst in driving people to leave. Of those who have considered leaving their employer (but not yet left), more than two-thirds (70%) rate their job satisfaction levels as ok, poor or even terrible.
Only 1% of this cohort rate their job satisfaction as excellent, compared to a quarter (25%) of those who have changed their job in the past 12 months.
When people feel satisfied with their jobs, they don’t typically consider a big change. Of the people who said they have neither changed nor considered changing employers, a very happy 83% rated their job satisfaction good or excellent.
The survey results also reveal that job satisfaction levels are twice as high (62%) for people who have changed employers when compared to those who haven’t yet taken the leap (30%).
Working environments matter. Happy employees stay put.
The rise in satisfaction from changing employers indicates that it’s not the job itself, but the employing support organisations that have the biggest impact on job satisfaction.
When we look at key drivers for people to join the disability support sector, the majority are motivated by a desire to help others (31%) or because they feel their skills align with the role (33%).
1 in 4 respondents (25%) said they had personal experience with disability, giving them a unique understanding and appreciation for the sector.
When we compare motivation with job satisfaction levels, people with lived experience reported the highest satisfaction levels, with 66% rating their jobs as good or excellent. This is closely followed by those who were motivated to join the sector because they have friends or family with disability.
Notably, lived experience as a driver to enter the sector is more commonly seen in sole traders. 28% of sole traders responded that lived experience was their motivator, compared with just 5% at an enterprise level. Some of the most satisfied employees in the sector have lived experience with disability — so why are so few employed at large organisations? Mentioning flexibility and accessibility within open roles could help to attract more talent to your organisation.
Happy customers = happy workforce
How happy are your customers? This is an important question to consider, because your reputation and how customers feel about the support they're receiving has a direct impact on the job satisfaction of employees within the sector.
This sentiment isn’t limited to frontline workers either — customer-led reasons dominate the top three most important factors when motivating disability support professionals across all job functions.
80% of all respondents selected impact as their primary motivator, followed by a connection with clients (48%) and appreciation from clients (25%).
Client/customer impact and connection is considerably more significant than financial remuneration, which ranked 6th with just 12%.
It makes perfect sense that people motivated to help would feel inspired and motivated when they can see their contribution to the lives of others. The takeaway here is that the impact of a person’s work inspires and motivates individuals across all job functions, not just those that have direct contact with your customers. Make sure your organisation is celebrating the achievements and recognising or demonstrating the contribution that every team member is making within your organisation.
Connection with peers is the next contributing factor after customers. Don’t let frontline support workers or those working from home feel isolated from one another. Providing opportunities for colleagues to connect promotes skill sharing as well as a shared understanding of the demands of each role.
73% of senior leaders described their job satisfaction as good or excellent, compared with 59% of frontline support workers and 57% of those in management and admin roles.
To address gaps in employee satisfaction, respondents were asked to nominate the top five ways that their employer could improve their job satisfaction. Overall, the results indicated that people who described their job satisfaction as excellent gave significantly fewer areas for improvement. The least satisfied workers are most likely to be unhappy with their organisation’s communication, pay standards and receiving recognition.
The results also varied between job functions, reminding us that if you asked a senior leader what could be done to improve their job satisfaction, it might look completely different to asking someone providing in-home support part-time.
Let’s look at the top three responses from each category.
How could your employer improve your job satisfaction?
Skill development was a priority across all job functions, suggesting that personal development is a priority for most disability support professionals.
The larger an organisation, the more important it is to have the right tools and technology in place to tackle heavy compliance and administrative workloads.
Better communication and feedback was another strong response across all categories, but 60% of respondents at large organisations said this was a priority.
Casual workers have unique needs to improve their job satisfaction compared to full-time and part-time employees. Casual workers indicated the top ways to improve their job satisfaction is by providing:
- Better shift rostering
- Access to client information before a shift commences
- More work
Look at the tools and technology used within your workplace. What’s the adoption rate? Are they fit for purpose or contributing to heavy workloads for your teams? The right technology can help solve frustrations and improve communication and feedback channels across your organisation, helping to address common problems that impact job satisfaction.
While training and skills development might look like another ‘quick win’ to please everyone, it’s clear there is no silver bullet. Before developing a strategy to raise employee satisfaction, be sure to have discussions across many levels of the organisations rather than making assumptions due to feedback from management.
It’s human to be a product and reflection of your culture. Cultures shape our behaviour and define the values we take into the world. Company culture is no different. An organisation with a clear vision and cohesiveness is often said to have a positive or ‘strong’ company culture. We took a look at how this is playing out in the disability support sector and whether it’s linked to job satisfaction.
When it comes to rating company culture, disability support organisations don’t fare too badly. Overall, 59% of disability support professionals describe their company culture as either good (35%) or amazing (23%), with the average rating 3.61 stars out of 5.
This is good news, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. 1 in 4 respondents (25%) rate their company culture as “average” and a further 15% went as far as to say it was either poor or terrible.
We dug a little deeper and found that senior leadership takes a decidedly more positive view of their company culture than everyone else. This suggests that a disconnect exists between the initiatives developed by HQ and how they’re widely perceived.
Company Culture (Average rating)
By Job Function
When comparing company culture ratings to job satisfaction, one thing is clear: company culture has a direct impact on job satisfaction.
People that rate their workplace culture as good or amazing also reported good or excellent satisfaction. In contrast, only 16% of people who rated their company culture negatively said they had good or excellent job satisfaction. More than half (57%) of people who believe their company culture is poor or terrible also report low job satisfaction.
By Company Culture
Looking at what would improve satisfaction, the majority of respondents who rated their culture three stars or below said “better communication and feedback”. 55% of all respondents who rated their company culture two stars or less said better recognition (non-monetary) would help improve their job satisfaction.
This shows quite clearly that employee engagement is tightly linked to company culture. If your team members don’t feel listened to, or recognised for their achievements — they will rate the company culture negatively.
Respondents with good company culture were more likely to select skill development and better tools and technology as ways to improve their job satisfaction. This suggests that these are commonly sought after to improve personal development and job function, however they do not dampen perceptions of company culture.
Good culture needs to be driven from the top-down
What makes a culture great within support organisations? What does it take to go from average to amazing? When examining the data from those who work in large organisations, it became clear that leadership plays a pivotal role in creating great company culture.
Organisations that have CEOs and senior management teams that can demonstrate the company values, communicate well with staff and are seen to be approachable and supportive of frontline workers will create an environment that empowers staff.
The below quotes are taken from support workers within large organisations who rate their company culture as amazing:
Looking at those who said the culture was ‘good’, we saw a similar theme. Respondents spoke of company values and vision, providing feedback and feeling listened to, or seeing evidence of efforts being made to improve.
What about those who rated their company culture as ‘average’? Common themes mentioned include:
- Lack of avenues for feedback that is taken seriously and acted upon
- Poor communication and/or support from management
- Inflexibility or lack of innovation, being stuck in old ways of working
- High workload and unpaid hours
Those who rated their internal culture as ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’ also cited communication and lack of company values as an issue, as well as:
- Policies in place but not applied or adhered to
- Too much focus on profitability/money
- Lack of professionalism from team leaders and/or a disconnect between management and frontline support workers
- KPIs that focus solely on financial benchmarks and billable hours, not taking into consideration the social impact and customer satisfaction or goals
Disability support work can be quite challenging and needs to feel purposeful to keep people motivated. All leaders should work at finding meaningful ways of ensuring teams feel valued in the contribution they’re making. These efforts don’t go unnoticed, with action toward improvement counting towards a perception of company culture.
Bottom line: It’s time to walk the walk. Connect staff to your purpose as an organisation and share the impact you’re making. Leaders who can actively demonstrate that they are driving the business towards achieving their vision — and acknowledging the contributions of team members along the way — are the ones who will motivate and sustain happy employees.
The great news unveiled by this survey is that the pay constraints that NDIS providers face are not going to make-or-break your employee’s happiness. It is possible to motivate, attract and retain happy employees by focusing on job satisfaction and company culture.
To do that, you need to ensure that team members feel connected to your organisation’s mission, your customers and the impact their role is having on the two.
Improving communication and feedback within your organisation should be the first priority. This was seen as a priority for most disability support professionals and is the best way to ensure staff feel supported and identify any issues before they become damaging. This focus should extend to your customers, knowing that their satisfaction will have a direct impact on morale across the entire organisation.
Exploring better technology and tools under this lens can be a great place to start. When assessing the technology you’re using in your operation, are you considering how it will be experienced by both staff and customers? The right tools can open lines of communication, better prepare frontline workers for shifts, manage workloads to avoid burnout, ease the burden of unpaid admin hours and enable consistency of care — all of which can increase job satisfaction.
Based on the key takeaways from this report, leadership teams should meet to discuss and plan your strategic direction, with a focus on the following priority actions:
- Revisit your organisation’s mission and vision to discuss how leadership can drive engagement with your purpose at every level
- Assess what can be done to make job functions more accessible to attract and retain team members with lived experience of disability.
- Look outside the existing talent pool and skills alone, attracting passionate and motivated staff who can be trained for positions
- Assess the tools and technology in place within the organisation and consider how they are experienced by staff and customers — including how they facilitate open communication and feedback
- Implement regular check-ins between management and frontline staff to get regular and consistent feedback, rather than relying on yearly surveys or performance reviews.
- Track the social impact of your organisation and share customer success stories widely and often to all team members
- Develop programs to train, develop and acknowledge staff skills and achievements. Read this DSC article to get some helpful tips.
- Find out how your company culture and purpose is perceived by the wider organisation, not just those who are implementing the initiatives
Use this free slide deck to share the research findings with your team, reflect on your own workplace and set an action plan.
How to find (and keep) the best disability support professionals
To get an in-depth look at how to build a successful internal culture and get creative with recruitment, download a free copy of The Support Workforce Report: How to Find and Keep the Best NDIS Support Workers.
To find out how a better way of working can transform communication across your entire organisation and drive customer satisfaction, get in touch with the GoodHuman team here.