JOBM: Staff Schedules Reduce Turnover in a Human Service Agency

Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash

Dr. Todd Ward

As we have discussed elsewhere, staff turnover in Applied Behavior Analysis is a problem, as it is across the Human Services sector.  It’s not really a secret, and many factors are at play. But one group of researchers found a way to significantly reduce it in an agency serving adults with developmental disabilities.

Strouse, Carroll-Hernandez, Sherman, and Sheldon (2004) published their work in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.

Here’s what they did:

Setting: The team worked with three types of homes serving adults with disabilities: individual homes, serving 2-3 adults; group homes, serving 6-8 adults, and family teaching homes, serving 2-3 adults with a married couple in the home, who also supervised staff.

The Original Schedule: The original schedule was based on a typical 8-hour work day, five days a week, with homes staffed around the clock, every day of the week.  The authors noted significant costs associated with training staff that stayed a short time or worked infrequently.  Moreover, turnover was significantly higher for staff who worked weekends, and 250% higher for part-time staff. Lastly, the schedules themselves varied considerably from house to house.

The Revised Schedule: The revised schedule was designed with a number of goals in mind, which were as follows:

  • To minimize the number of people providing care while maintaining staff-client ratios.
  • To maximize full time staff over part time.
  • To reduce the number of different staff interacting with clients.
  • To standardize staffing patterns across homes to allow for a substitute staff pool.
  • To increase hourly wages without more payroll costs.

The revised schedule had 12 hour shifts across 3 or 3.5 days with a “front week” group working Sunday-Wednesday, and a “back week” group working Wednesday to Saturday.

Results:  Overall, the revised schedules saw a 43% reduction in turnover, 57% fewer staff vacancies, and 8% higher wages, among other things.  The family teaching homes saw the largest reductions in turnover, followed by the individualized homes.  The group homes actually had a slight increase in turnover percentage, though the number of people that were turning over was unchanged.

The authors gave several reasons for the effects, such as higher wages for staff without raising payroll costs for the agency, fewer work days, and greater ease in getting coverage for time off.

For more details about the study, including downsides to the new schedule, be sure to read the full article here.

Do you think this could work for your agency?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]

About bsci21 703 Articles
President, bSci21 Media, LLC Editor,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.