Fostering Motivation & Passion Among Direct-Care Staff

Erin J. Kelly, MA, LCMHC
Program Manager
Child and Family Services of NH

Erin Kelly

Mike, a drop-in center caseworker, truly loves his job and embodies the passion needed to be able to work with runaway and homeless youth.  He uses his sense of humor to build rapport and trusting relationships with youth and puts every effort into guiding them towards stability. Sometimes these youth succeed and gain the safety, well-being, permanent connections, and self-sufficiency that we hope for them. More often these youth move forward a few steps and then a loss of a job, a drug addiction, the end of a relationship, or some other circumstance that life has brought them moves them back a few more steps. These youth genuinely struggle each day to develop their own values, determine their priorities, understand a sense of self, overcome trauma, overcome addiction, find a place where they feel that they belong, and on and on. Each day Mike is there to watch their struggle, to support them, to encourage them, and to assist them in finding their life direction, but while he does this, how does Mike find the support that he needs day in and day out?

There are five simple ways that any administrator can use to maintain motivation and passion in direct service staff.

  1. Give them the tools to be successful.

    An adequate training and orientation procedure prior to beginning a direct service position can set staff up to start their new job feeling confident and skillful.  On-going training opportunities for all staff allow continued growth and development which produces a feeling of fulfillment.

  2. Provide regular supervision.

    Direct-service staff need to have regularly scheduled supervision with a direct supervisor who is accessible and approachable. This supervision should be in a confidential setting that allows the staff member to openly talk about professional struggles and strengths, professional goal planning, relationships with coworkers, and work with clients.

  3. Provide opportunity for fun and team building.

    Staff members work together in stressful, fast-paced environments on a regular basis.  They also need the opportunity to slow down, laugh, and build relationships with one another.  This can happen simply by cooking a staff meal together, taking a field trip to another nearby RHY program, or spending a day together on a ropes course.

  4. Allow the opportunity for participation in decision-making.

    Staff feel a connection and an ownership for that which they develop. Programmatic decisions and policy changes should involve the participation of direct-service staff when possible.   This allows staff to feel as though they are valued and have a purpose within the program.

  5. Provide unsolicited positive feedback.

    Direct-service staff have challenging jobs and face them head-on every day. This deserves recognition.  Catch your staff doing something good and let them know.  Thank them for the work they do and make sure that it is genuine.

Direct service staff are the glue that hold RHY programs together and as supervisors and administrators we have the honor of providing support for them that will allow them to provide these services for many years.  Being a supervisor is the most important job that any of us can undertake.