Meaning in Direct Support [PDF]

John O’Brien

Feb. 2002

“It’s How You Look At Your Work That Makes the Difference”

One aspect of the search for ways to build competence, commitment to positive values, and continuity in the developmental disabilities services workforce involves building a deeper understanding of the ways direct service workers make their jobs meaningful and satisfying. This paper is based on group discussions with selected direct support workers from one regional division of Creative Community Living Services (CCLS), a Wisconsin agency that provides residential services and makes a substantial investment in staff development.

The challenges these workers experience are familiar: a low paid, low status job; anxiety about changes in services driven by budget cuts and rising insurance costs; demanding schedules; a growing burden of paperwork and regulation; and people with disabilities who face many barriers to good quality life and can sometimes be difficult to deal with. What matters is the range of satisfactions these workers derive from their relationships with the people they support and their descriptions of the ways they have found to discover the meaning in their work. One participant summarized the discussion this way:*

It’s how you look at your work that makes the difference. If you look it as a just a list of personal care tasks and household chores for clients that really don’t have much to offer, there isn’t so much room for pride in your work. If you look at your job as the chance to make a positive relationship with people who can offer a lot if they have the right support, then you find your reason to work right there with the people themselves.