Rural Disability and Rehabilitation

Research Progress Report #26


Montana Providers of Adult Developmental Disabilities Services: Direct Service Staff Demographics, Job Characteristics and Job Satisfaction

October, 2004

Previous RTC: Rural research documented the costs of replacing, hiring and training direct service staff incurred by Montana providers of developmental disabilities services (Progress Report #17, 2002; Progress Report #25, 2004). Researchers also found that direct service staff turnover correlated with increased consumer risk of developing secondary conditions (Seekins, Traci, & Szalda-Petree, 1999). Our findings suggest that reducing turnover may save money and also improve consumers’ health. In the series on direct service staff turnover, this report focuses on characteristics of direct service staff; job characteristics (workloads, training, wages); and job satisfaction.

Methods: In 2002-2003, researchers surveyed 243 direct service staff employed by eight Montana providers of developmental disabilities services (five local providers, one provider of services in two regions, one foster home). Volunteers completed surveys on their demographic information, job characteristics and supports, types of individuals served, training/staff development opportunities, and job satisfaction. Prior research suggests that these factors predict organizational instability and direct service staff turnover rates (Hatton et al., 2001).

“Non-scaled” survey items required only a simple response. “Scaled” items required choosing from several possible responses. Response rates across items were high (non-scaled 92-100%; scaled 99-100%). Follow-up with human resource officers brought non-scaled rates to 100 percent. We used statistical software to impute missing values.

Nine items rated satisfaction with income, benefits, job security, hours worked per week, flexibility of hours, shift schedules, management/supervision, opportunity for advancement, and number of consumers served. Each used a 5-point attitudinal scale (1: very dissatisfied; 2: quite dissatisfied; 3: neutral; 4: quite satisfied; 5: very satisfied) (Fig.1). Factor and reliability analyses determined that the scales for Work Conditions and Benefits had relatively good internal reliability.

Six items had a 5-point scale (1: not at all; 2: little; 3: moderate amount; 4: a lot; 5: totally) to measure respondents’ attitudes about two statements on each of the following: the nature of their work; level of job site staff support; and adequacy of management and staffing supports to meet program goals (Fig.2).

Demographic Results: Table 1 shows male/female breakout of respondents’ ages, marital status, current educational status, and outside employment.

Table 1: Demographic Results (51 Men, 192 Women) Description of table.

All Men Women
Mean age (range 18-72 years) 36.7 39 36.1
Married/domestic partner 44.4% 47.1% 43.8%
Current part-time student 3.3% 0% 4.2%
Current full-time student 7.4% 5.9% 7.8%
Current part-time second job 3.3% 5.9% 2.6%
Current full-time second job 13.2% 17.6% 12%


Most respondents were unmarried women, not living with a domestic partner (32.5% single; 21.4% divorced/separated; 1.6% widowed). They resided in ten different Montana counties. Some respondents (16.5%) had a second job. Most second jobs were full-time.

Education: Part-time direct service staff had significantly more education than full-time staff. Fewer than five percent had not completed high school; 34.6 percent completed high school only; and 19.3 percent had four or more years of post-secondary education. More than a third (37%) of respondents (usually those with more education) had taken some disability-related instruction. Forty percent of part-time employees were current students (30% enrolled full-time) versus seven percent of full-time employees (5% enrolled full-time). Table 2 has specific information on education levels by job settings and job titles.

Work Experience: Many respondents had direct service experience. The average respondent had worked more than two years for the current employer, had more than seven years of direct service experience and more than four years’ experience in residential services. Nearly half (48.2%) had previous Montana work experience, and 20.5 percent had worked out of state. Predictably, older respondents had significantly more years of experience. Table 2 has specific work experience information.

Primary jobs: Respondents worked in more than fifty locations in seven Montana counties. Most worked in group homes, followed by semi-independent living, work centers, and other settings (day programs, etc.). Most primary functions were habilitative, with job titles corresponding to: Habilitation Aide I, Habilitation Aide II, Habilitation Tech I, Habilitation Tech II or Habilitation Specialist. The rest (1.2%) were grouped as “other” (medical facilitator, administrative assistant, health specialist, unknown). Direct service staff worked shifts of “variable nights and days” (45.3%), “days only” (42.8%), or “nights only” (11.5%).

Table 2. Direct Service Staff Education and Work Experience Description of Table.

Avg. mos. in current job Avg. yrs. education With disability instruction Prior direct services experience Avg. years in direct service Avg. years in residential service
By setting
Group home 81.2% 29.23 13.57 38.1% 44.9% 7.03 4.33
Semi-independent living 12.7% 19.24 14.42 43.3% 41.9% 6.24 3.91
Work center 5.3% 37.08 12.89 23.1% 30.8% 6.24 4.16
Other 1% 28.50 12.00 0.00% 50.0% 9.50% 8.50
By job title
Hab. Aide I 33.1% 15.57 13.79 35.4% 50.6% 6.82 2.75
Hab. Aide II 16.1% 24.83 12.95 36.8% 35.9% 5.64 3.61
Hab. Tech I 21.9% 23.23 13.74 35.8% 36.5% 4.89 3.50
Hab. Tech II 11.6% 53.16 13.13 42.9% 46.4% 9.94 6.13
Hab. Spec. 16.1% 45.51 14.34 42.1% 44.7% 9.20 7.42
Other: 1.2% 68.67 13.71 66.7% 33.3% 13.50 12.00
All settings/Titles 28.37 mos. 13.63 yrs 37.6% 43.8% 7.07 yrs. 4.30 yrs.


Workloads: Table 3 shows workloads, wages and benefits by job setting/job title. Most respondents (89.7%) worked full-time (30 or more hours per week). 10.3 percent worked part-time. Most respondents (93%) had worked 30 or more hours in the prior month; 51.4 percent had averaged 11.2 overtime hours. 

The typical full-time direct service employee had worked just over 40 hours per week in the previous month significantly more than the part-time employee’s average of 32.5 hours. Both groups reported working more hours per week than their scheduled obligation, but the extra hours were accounted for differently. Part-time employees worked 11.5 extra “regular” hours per month, significantly more than the 1.6 extra “regular” hours reported by full-time employees. Full-time employees had worked an average of 12.4 “overtime” hours and part-time employees worked 1.8 overtime hours in the previous month.

Satisfaction: Three items assessed “Hours in work week” (mean 4.0), “Shifts worked” (mean 3.8), and “Flexibility of hours” (mean 3.7). Generally, respondents were “quite satisfied” with working conditions. About eight percent were “quite” or “very” dissatisfied”.

Wages and Benefits: The average hourly wage was $8.35 (range of $5.75 to $15.78). Wages of full- and part-time respondents were similar, but older workers had higher wages. Less than a third of respondents received health insurance, paid sick leave/vacation, and retirement benefits (full-time: 36%; part-time: 20%). Most respondents received one or more, but not all, benefits. Almost ten percent received no benefits. Over half (54.3%) of respondents had no work absences in the previous month. Nearly half (49.5%) of reported absences were one day only, and few (<3%) were longer than a week (range: less than one day to 21 days).

Satisfaction: The job benefits scale had items on: “Job security” (mean 3.6), “Benefits” (mean 3.1), “Advancement Opportunities” (mean 3.0), and “Income” (mean 2.4). Most respondents were “neutral” about job benefits and dissatisfied with wages. A third were “quite” or “very” dissatisfied with job benefits and 54 percent were “quite” or “very” dissatisfied with wages.

Table 3. Direct Service Staff Characteristics  Description

Work  week Overtime in prior month Wages Benefits
(sick/vacation leave, health insurance, retirement)
Job Settings Avg. Hrs. Avg. Hrs. Average hourly % with all % with none
Group home 81.2% 41.29 12.50 $8.27 29.8% 12.1%
Semi-independent living 12.7% 36.23 4.39 $8.60 41.9% 9.7%
Work center 5.3% 37.58 6.62 $8.22 76.9% 7.7%
Other 1% 50.00 25.00 $12.70 100% 0%
Job Positions
Hab. Aide I 33.1% 36.67 11.25 $7.47 20% 26.3%
Hab. Aide II 16.1% 41.13 7.07 $7.87 28.2% 10.3%
Hab. Tech I 21.9% 40.29 9.70 $7.91 38.5% 5.8%
Hab. Tech II 11.6% 45.98 18.21 $9.44 39.3% 0%
Hab. Spec. 16.1% 42.63 10.24 $9.20 59.0% 0%
Other: 1.2% 45.00 11.21 $13.50 66.7% 0%
All settings/Titles 40.52 11.25 $8.35; Range $5.75-15.78 29.8% 9.7%


Staff Development: In the previous six months, most respondents (86.8%) had received at least one hour of job-related training (range: 1-84 hrs). In the previous six months, the average respondent had received 15.2 hours (median:11) of in-service or individual job training and/or other staff development opportunities. Thirteen percent of respondents had received no training during the previous six months. Half of these were Level II Habilitation Aides (22%) or Level II Habilitation Technicians (19%). Those reporting no training had significantly more direct service years of experience and also served fewer individuals per week. They served a higher proportion of individuals with severe disabilities and fewer individuals in supervised living situations. Few respondents (<1%) had never received employer-supported continuing education opportunities and nearly all respondents (96.3%) felt “qualified to meet on-the-job duties and expectations”.

Satisfaction: Respondents reporting no job-related training were significantly less satisfied with their job benefits, particularly opportunities for advancement.

Consumer Characteristics/Caseloads: The average respondent served/supported eight individuals per work week. Estimates of individuals’ levels of disability were: mild (25%), moderate (37%), and severe (37%). Each work week, the typical respondent served four individuals (range: 1-25) with challenging behaviors (half of the typical caseload). Most direct service staff (83.5%) interacted with consumers for five or more hours each work day. The remainder interacted with consumers for two to four hours (11.9%) or less than two hours (4.5%) per work day. Respondents who worked extra hours per week reported serving fewer individuals with mild disabilities.

Satisfaction: The level of satisfaction with the “number of consumers served” had little correlation with the other eight items (related to other items, it was a single item factor in principle components analysis). Most respondents were “quite satisfied” with the number of individuals served, but a few (5.8%) were “very” or “quite” dissatisfied. Part-time respondents were significantly less satisfied than full-time staff with the number of individuals served. Per week, part-time staff served about five “difficult” individuals and full-time staff served about four individuals with challenging behaviors a statistically insignificant difference.

Figure 1: Job Satisfaction Responses  Description of Figure 1

Figure 1: Job Satisfaction Responses


Job Feedback: In response to “How far do you see a particular project through to completion?”, most respondents said “totally” (30.3%) or “a lot” (51%: median, mode and mean clustered around “a lot”). It is noteworthy that significantly more full-time staff (31.7%) answered “totally” than part-time staff (20%). The most-common response to “To what extent do you find out how well you are doing the job as you are working?”, was a “moderate amount” (37%: median and mean clustered around “moderate amount”), followed by “a lot” (35%), “little” (14.4%), “totally” (16%), and “not at all” (only 2.5%). These two items had only a slight correlation and subsequent analyses will treat them as relatively independent.

Staff Support: For “There are staff members I can depend on to help me if I really need it”, most respondents agreed “a lot” (38.7%: mean and median) or “totally” (35.4%) and 19.3 percent agreed a “moderate amount”. On “There are staff members with whom I can share my interests and concerns,” most respondents agreed “a lot” (34.2%: mean and median), “totally” (33.7%), or a “moderate amount” (21.4%). These two items correlated highly.

Managerial/Supervisory Support: For “There is adequate management and supervision from supervisors to meet programmatic goals”, most respondents agreed “a lot” (35.8%, the median answer) or “totally” (19.8%). However, 28.8 percent agreed only a “moderate amount” and 15.6 percent (the mean) agreed “a little” and “not at all”. For “There are enough staff to adequately meet programmatic goals”, both the mean/median responses were a “moderate amount”. These two items were positively correlated.

Satisfaction: Most respondents were “quite satisfied” (43%) or “very satisfied” (19%) with their management/supervision. However, many were “neutral” (21%), “quite dissatisfied” (11%), or “very dissatisfied” (7%).
Figure 2. Responses to Attitudinal Items.  Description of Figure 2.

Figure 2: Responses to Attitudinal Items

Conclusions and Next Steps: In this sample of direct service staff employed by eight Montana developmental disability service providers, the average respondent had 1.6 years of education beyond high school and seven years of direct service experience, yet earned only $8 per hour. Most staff worked full time and more hours per week than their scheduled obligation. Significantly more full-time employees accrued “overtime” hours, while part-time employees accrued more additional “regular” hours than full-time (overtime is paid when the employee works more than a typical 40-hour week). 

Both groups reported adequate job training. Respondents were generally able to complete job tasks with feedback and support from others. They were satisfied with numbers of individuals served and with general job conditions (hours worked, shifts, working conditions). Most were less satisfied with management/supervision and job benefits (benefit structure, job security and advancement opportunities). Over half were dissatisfied with wages. 

This report highlights Montana direct service staff demographics, job characteristics, and areas of satisfaction/dissatisfaction that may help define and address factors contributing to high turnover rates. Respondents provided data on their absences, vacations, and terminations (quits, fires, etc.) for a one-year period, so our future analyses will describe the predictive role of job environments and job satisfaction in maintaining a stable direct service staff presence in consumers’ lives.

Limitations: This was not a random sample of Montana direct service staff; supervisory staff recruited volunteers to complete the surveys. Based on providers’ figures, this strategy led to over-representation of full-time staff (by 12.6%), which may influence some job satisfaction and job characteristics results. Full-time employees were more likely to report favorably on “seeing a particular project through to completion” and number of consumers served. There were no differences for other job characteristics and areas of satisfaction. Data were self-reported and should be interpreted with caution.

For more information, contact:

Meg Traci, Director
Montana Disability and Health Program
The University of Montana Rural Institute
52 Corbin Hall, Missoula, MT 59812-7056
888-268-2743 toll-free;
406-243-5467 Voice;
406-243-4200 TTY
406-243-2349 (fax)

Opinions expressed are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the funding agencies.
This report is available in Braille, large print and text formats on request.