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Why Birthday Cards Matter! Employee Retention in the Disability Support Sector

Posted about 4 years ago by Alison Rodriguez

Employees Of The Month (9)

​So you choose the right staff member after an exhaustive Recruitment process, then sit back and let magic happen?  Keep reading to find out what makes them stick around…

Retention in a casualised world

The Disability Support world is changing.  Staff retention has always been a challenge in this sector; however the ever increasing casualisation of the workforce in the Disability Sector means a high average turnover rate of 30% plus (United Voice).   We’ve met businesses that have greater than 60% turnover of staff year on year.  Imagine what that does for morale and customer satisfaction!

While staff retention and therefore service continuity is vitally important for our disability customers, it takes a lot of business time and resources to constantly replace staff.  Under the NDIS Model of funding, this is one area of corporate overheads you can control!

Keeping staff engaged and satisfied in their daily roles is part of the challenge in developing staff loyalty, but there are various measures that should become part of your everyday DNA.  We’re not talking about Store Cards or Loyalty Bonus Points programs; we’re talking real, measurable strategies!

Employee experience

No, not their work experience on the job, we mean how their day-to-day interaction with you as an employer affects them.  Every contact point with that employee has to be a positive one.   From the phone call about a petrol card dealt with by your reception, to monthly Supervision sessions or Team meetings, staff should be greeted, supported, and cared for throughout each conversation.  Use each interaction as an opportunity to find out more about them and how their day is going.  Ask them about their kids/sick dog/house move/new car and we guarantee that if you care, they will too!


Great communication is the key to reducing staff turnover rates. Having open channels where staff can easily ask questions or voice any feedback can allow for a clear understanding of functions and allow for better efficiencies.  Also having a forum for staff (not just in staff meetings) to present and develop ideas will provide ownership and direction for staff, all the while allowing your service to thrive.  Always hold your Customer and Staff communication to the same high regard – the main contact point to your business is your Support Staff, so listen to their story, and then ask more questions!


Incorporating flexibility will create increased loyalty. Your office based employees have the same family commitments as field based staff, so why do we treat them differently?  There are genuine business and logistical differences such as rostering and Duty of Care requirements, however in essence that value base should still remain.

Some staff choose to actively work a casual roster, as it does allow flexibility.  Obviously it works both ways, however as an employer you must get the balance right.  You can’t expect someone to wake up in the middle of the night to assist with an emergency incident, if you haven’t taken the time to support them and be flexible in their own time of need.


Recognition of work plays a big part in retaining staff. Take the time to acknowledge the great work being carried out and recognise their critical importance to your business. Roll out a Rewards program and present at a staff meeting or send out gift cards with a handwritten note to show appreciation for their extra efforts.  This absolutely cannot be tokenistic, nor have a blanket approach.  Each reward must be merit based, and it doesn’t have to be big but it must be personal.  Don’t fret over the cost – it’s cheaper than advertising for new staff.

One of the most powerful and inexpensive rewards that can be used is words.  Ask a Senior manager to call and simply say “Hi, we’ve never met but I’ve heard about the great initiative you came up with about… and I wanted to thank you personally” and we guarantee many years of loyal service from that staff member.


This word is often overused in Corporate settings.  You will only ever know it’s true meaning if you walk into an office, and you feel it.  If EVERY person you deal with in a business mimics the same VALUE base that’s written on the wall or in the Annual Report, then that’s culture.   Creating a great culture within your office and field teams will result in many kinds of benefits including reduced costs, greater person-centred approach between support workers and clients as well as enhanced morale. 

Edmen’s story

Firstly, we don’t talk about turnover.  We talk about retention.  Some parts of Edmen’s geographically diverse Disability workforces have up to 90% retention rates.  How do we do it? 

  • We live and breathe our Values as a base for all our interactions and decisions. 

  • Staff recognition is everyday, in every phone call.  We work with people, who work with people.  Treat them like the superstar they are, and they’ll reward you time and time again.

  • Celebrate Success within the business and share success through our newsletters.

  • We ask questions about their family and their workplace.

  • There’s an Open door invitation to our office for each and every passing staff member.  We’re often isolated from our interstate workforces, however if a staff member is visiting the area and pop in, they get the royal treatment including lunch and a tour from all the staff!

  • Everyone has dreams and aspirations, and we often recruit from within our field staff, giving the opportunity for personal growth.

  • Movie Tickets and Vouchers. Often staff go above and beyond, but sometimes the best thing to do is to roster time off, and send Movie Tickets for two so they can enjoy a nice night off with their partner or  family.

  • Employment Anniversary recognition for service to our business and the customers we support.  We even send out customised pens and mugs and other goodies for important milestones.

  • Sympathy goes a long way towards loyalty.  We send flowers and make a call when we hear a staff member has had really bad news in their family.  It’s the least we can do.

  • Monthly/Annual Employee Awards have been in place since the beginning and are really successful as they are consistent and we’re proud of our staff.

  • Workforce Appreciation Sessions are just that. Wherever we go in our travels, we always make time for an open dialogue and coffee and cake with any staff member who’s available.  A great way for senior management to hear what’s happening.

Lastly, we care. We send out Birthday cards to EVERY employee (that’s upwards of 2000 birthday cards each year) hand signed by everyone in our Head Office. 

To find out how we can help with tailored workforce solutions for your growing business, call Adam Hunt on 0428763070.