Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) are an integral part of providing ABA services, but when was the last time we checked in with them? How are they holding up and is there anything they wished their employers knew?
To answer this, I surveyed four RBTs across two different states with experience ranging from three to four years. Though they all had individual experiences and could only speak for themselves, their responses to my questions overlapped across the same five themes. So, buckle up! Five things that RBTs wished ABA company owners knew:
1. This job can be isolating.
This topic came up more often with the in-home RBTs, but it likely comes as no surprise that working in an environment without the presence of other co-workers can feel pretty secluded. One RBT responded that this work can be lonely or isolating. A study found that the more social support a staff member receives (i.e. regular and positive interactions with team members, frequent training opportunities, etc.) the more likely they are to have increased job satisfaction and decreased burnout (Plantiveau, Dounavi, & Virus-Ortega, 2017).
2. Supervisor support is paramount.
A literature review of predictors of RBT burnout and intent to resign found that greater levels of supervisor support (even perceived supervisor support) were negatively correlated with burnout and intent to resign while being positively correlated with overall job satisfaction (Novack & Dixon, 2019). Several respondents expressed gratitude to their current supervisors for the support they receive and how important that connection is. Those most satisfied with their jobs noted that they had strong support from their supervisors.
3. Burnout is real.
When asked what the most challenging aspect of their job was, every respondent mentioned burnout. Reasons attributing to burnout varied across the RBTs but some of the factors mentioned included: wanting more support for a work/life balance, lack of supervisory support, difficult days with clients where they do not feel successful, and/or client-staff mismatch. Most respondents expressed a desire to receive empowerment from their employers to take care of their own mental health rather than feel guilty for taking a sick day.
4. Communication is key.
Communication was a common theme touched on by each RBT as well. Some praised their current employers for their level of communication with them while others wished that communication would improve at their organization. Regardless of how they felt, it is clear that communication is important to all of them! Some of the respondents mentioned that they would appreciate having the upper management observe sessions to better understand what they are facing in their position. One RBT stated, “It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another to see and witness what an RBT goes through…there are so many facets to this job and I just want to feel like I am understood.”
5. There are reasons they value this job!
Each RBT acknowledged the real challenges of working in their field. They shared what they hoped to see improved and some of their greatest barriers. Despite these challenges, they all agreed that there are rewarding aspects to the work they do.
Here are their responses when asked, “What do you enjoy about your work?”
“Client progression, family interactions, flexibility around school schedule, and people-focused work.”
“The best part of my job is that I get to make a difference in my community. Although I may have hard days, I get to wake up and feel fulfilled in my career and work with some of the smartest people I know.”
“I love the support I get working in a center-based environment. I always feel supported by supervisors or other RBTs. I also enjoy all of the different activities we have for the clients…I genuinely feel the child enjoys their time with us.”
“The kids (are) why I keep doing what I do, you never know what’s coming at you, they make you laugh or frustrated but it’s always rewarding. We are out there helping in some small way and I love that.”
So, what should be done with this feedback?
- You might find ways to create connections between team members who do not see each other often, if at all, which may mitigate staff from feeling like an island.
- You might get into the trenches with your RBTs and observe a few sessions to see what challenges they face!
- You might consider using an assessment such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1997) to measure your staff’s level of burnout.
Regardless, it may be time to do a check-in with your own staff to learn why they value the work they do and how you can best support them moving forward.
Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E., & Leiter, M. P. (1997). Maslach burnout inventory. Scarecrow Education.
Novack, M. N., & Dixon, D. R. (2019). Predictors of burnout, job satisfaction, and turnover in behavior technicians working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 6(4), 413-421.
Plantiveau, C., Dounavi, K., & Virués-Ortega, J. (2018). High levels of burnout among earl