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Recruitment and retention of qualified staff within the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has been a consistent struggle during my time in the field. The recurring issue specifically lies in the need for recruitment of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs); however, there are retention issues across the board with both RBTs and Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). While the need for ABA services is extremely high, there are many reasons why RBTs and BCBAs are not interested in being recruited – low pay, heavy caseloads, long work weeks, lack of communication, lack of staff support, and minimal if any benefits, just to name a few. These issues are also contributing factors to high turnover rates. 

Pee-Wee’s Behavioral Services LLC strives to provide high-quality services to our clients, but when developing the business plan for this company, I knew that was not possible if we did not also have qualified and high-quality team members. Before opening our doors, I spent long nights researching ways to increase recruitment and decrease the turnover rates I’ve experienced in the field thus far. Our mission is to create a space where employees can take pride in the services they provide and clients can take pride in their accomplishments. 

I’ve found that the key to both recruitment and retention is prioritizing employees in addition to clients, instead of prioritizing one at the expense of the other. Prioritization of team members and clients can and should coexist, and we accomplish this by operating through our core principles and values: “We intend to operate by the Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23).” 

From a management perspective, I have made it my priority to operate as a Servant Leader, in that the needs of my team members come before my own (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Mark 9:35). This means I keep an “open-door” policy; no matter the position of the employee, they can come to me as the company owner without hesitation and know I will address their needs to the best of my ability. This also means I don’t see myself as “above” anyone of my team members. I understand that I still have to make the business decisions and such, but as far as how I interact with my team members, I try to be servant-minded in my approach and response to any questions or concerns they may have. 

From a compensation perspective, I have addressed the various recruitment and retention issues by adhering to my biblical values as well in that “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). I believe that team members should be well compensated for the hard work they put in, and in response to that belief/guiding principle, I have increased my pay rates to a percentage base of our reimbursement rates. Staff can maintain a team mindset knowing that everyone is paid well and equally regarding their qualifications. In addition, I put my employee’s financial needs and the financial needs of the company before my own. 

From a communication standpoint, I encourage open communication and input from each and every team member. An RBT does not have to keep their observations/ideas/suggestions to themselves because they are “just an RBT” (which is a phrase that is NOT allowed within the company). Each team member holds significant and unique value; therefore, I strive to establish and maintain an environment that makes them feel welcome at the table. This also provides opportunities for everyone to learn from each other. The ultimate decision on a matter is made by the appropriate individual (i.e., the supervising BCBA on the case etc.), but all team members are provided opportunities to provide input, make suggestions, ask questions, etc., before a decision is made. 

Once a decision is made, the responsible individual then provides explanation for the decision so that everyone on the team understands the “why” behind it. This has helped establish and maintain a strong team atmosphere for each client’s case, increases the knowledge of team members, increases confidence of team members, and increases the value each team member feels they bring to the table because they know their voice is heard and considered. 

In addition, I have established a transparent approach to the company as a whole. Any team member can observe another team member/department and ask questions regarding what is going on. No one is left in the dark about any decision made, big or small, regarding the company, team members and our clients. 

From a mental health perspective, I have addressed the recruitment and retention issue by implementing a four-day work week. We are only open Monday-Thursday for therapy sessions. Fridays are reserved for team meetings/trainings/paperwork if needed, but we close early on Fridays as well even if we have meetings. This helps team members maintain a healthy work/life balance. It helps them prioritize their own mental, physical and emotional health. The decision behind this is again drawn from biblical principles, in that throughout Scripture you see the emphasis on rest. We were not made to be on the go 24/7. In fact, employees have a section in their performance review that is focused solely on how well they balance their work/life time, prioritize their mental/physical health, etc., so each employee is rewarded for taking care of themselves. We also rotate team member’s schedules to reduce burnout. Finally, I have established a max number of cases a team member can have on their caseload, as well as a max number of hours worked within a month to help reduce burnout. 

From a benefits perspective, I have addressed the recruitment and retention issue by offering benefits and PTO to all team members, not just BCBAs. Everyone deserves to be able to take time off, have access to benefits etc. and not worry about their finances in the process. 

In summary, each aspect identified as a contributing factor and hindrance for both recruitment and retention of team members has been addressed through biblical principles, which at the core of each is said best by Jesus in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Some people take this as a liberty to treat others wrongly in response to being wronged themselves, but what is being instructed is to act towards others how you wish others would treat you, not in response to how you’ve already been treated by them. 

At Pee-Wee’s Behavioral Services LLC, we strive to set the standard and hold the bar high by treating others the way we wish to be treated. We hope to be a model to follow after, not a response to the negativity already present in the world. 

Sefa Bailey

Sefa Bailey is the founder and owner of Pee-Wee’s Behavioral Services LLC in Green Sea, SC. She believes humans are made in the image of God and therefore are worthy of love and support. She believes in the underdogs. In response to those beliefs, Sefa started Pee-Wee’s. Her mission is to encourage clients to be uniquely themselves because they were made to be exactly that, as well as to support staff in a way that makes them feel valued each day. Sefa obtained her master’s degree in Psychology (specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis) from Capella University, and became a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst in 2021.