Enhancing Residential Childcare Employee Motivation & Retention through Talent-Integration

High turnover rates of direct-care employees in residential childcare agencies is an industry-wide chronic issue which has adverse effects on youth treatment and outcomes as well as organizational viability and growth (Griffiths et al., 2017). Research has shown a number of factors which significantly increase retention of direct-care employees; emphasis on rewards & incentives, reduction of emotional exhaustion, managerial support, vocational achievement, recognition & appreciation, autonomy, positive organizational culture & climate, and organizational commitment (Mor Barak, Nissley, & Levin, 2001; Shim, 2010; Griffiths et al., 2017; Aarons & Sawitzky, 2006). Enhancing employee motivation has been shown to increase both retention and performance (Sandhya & Kumar, 2011). Few studies have evaluated the efficacy of individual-level incentives for improving retention of direct-care employees in child welfare organizations (Clark, Smith, & Uota, 2013).

In this research and applied change project conducted for my Masters Thesis in Organizational Psychology and Change Leadership, I sought to investigate the research question, “Do Therapeutic Recreation-focused talent-integration opportunities positively impact motivation and retention of direct-care employees in a Residential Childcare Facility?” Through five interventions targeted across individual, group, managerial, and organizational levels, I conducted a diagnostic inquiry and sought to improve motivation and retention through creation of Therapeutic Recreation-related Talent Integration Projects. These interventions were conducted with 52 direct-care employees in the Residential Department of a multi-faceted mental health and social services organization serving youth trauma survivors (ANDRUS). Methods included two large group interviews, two questionnaires, and one manager workshop. The findings demonstrated that Talent Integration Projects significantly improve direct-care employee motivation, job satisfaction, vocational self-efficacy, and retention. The findings also demonstrated that direct-care employee motivation and performance can be enhanced through improving managerial support, self-care opportunities, reward systems, and practices of recognition & appreciation.

The data collected in the course of this project also highlighted a number of key themes, which correlated directly to employee motivation and retention using evidence from the field and an organization development diagnostic inquiry; managerial support, self-care, rewards, recognition & appreciation, and democracy. These themes provided a roadmap, which has proved essential since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the scope of the original research project, a number of concrete actions were taken at the team and organizational level to ensure staff members at ANDRUS felt motivated, supported, rewarded, and appreciated while continuing to fulfil their duties as essential employees. This presentation will share transferrable insights from research and application regarding how to boost direct care employee motivation and retention from an organizational psychology vantage point.


Stephan L Spilkowitz, MA

Assistant Director of Therapeutic Programming & Youth Development , ANDRUS

Email: sspilkowitz@jdam.org