The notion of attunement, empathy and engagement are just as strategically important in the relationship from supervisor to supervisee and worker to employer as it is between professional and client. This parallel process reverberates up and down the organization and across the micro, mezzo and macro systems that intersect with our work in the helping profession.
To be well as a worker, the systems, the managers, the supervisors, and your colleagues all need to be well too. A culture of well-being can’t be just be created around a segment of willing partners or a few champion leaders among them but it can certainly start there.
Leaders in the workplace have a unique opportunity to set a course. They have everything to gain as a return on that investment too. For example, an NRCFCPPP information packet authored by Teija Sudol cited research in CFD & Children’s Rights, 2006 identifying that worker turnover has a fiscal impact that can cost about 1/3 of the worker’s annual salary (Sudol, 2009).
Some turnover is to be expected, but if you can manage turnover well there is a lot that can be gained in terms of access and client access and outcomes. Evidence reviewed by Sodol from CDF & Children’s Rights indicated that families and parents can receive fewer services from helping professionals as a result of worker turnover (2009). The information packet also highlighted research findings in Flower et al, 2005 indicating that children who had only one worker achieved positive outcomes in 74.5% of the cases studied, as compared to 17.5% of children with two workers and 0.1% of children with six or seven workers (2009).
If worker stability and wellbeing matters how can we hold onto the workforce we have and also keep our workers well enough to do their work? Some research in the human resource management field suggests that this may be best accomplished by creating a culture of wellness within the workplace and creating a workplace where employees can balance the challenging work involved in their job but at the same time feel supported both in their work and outside of it. Work/Life balance matters in in the healing professions as much as if not more than it does in any other workplace.
It’s clear that to succeed in having workforce wellbeing we must invest now as agencies, organizations, and jurisdictions in a Well-at-Work Framework.
A Well-at-Work Framework could include simple things like allowing workers flexibility in how they use their sick leave and PTO. Or by subsidizing or incentivizing their fitness club membership. Simply approaching intentional conversations about well-being in our practice of supervision might be the key. Whatever you do to address well-being in the workplace a model approach for helping professionals may be best centered on practices that focus in three important areas incorporating; removing stigma from the workplace, integrating a wellness culture and philosophy of supervision, and preventing and debriefing secondary traumatic stress.
Here is a more in depth look at what a framework such as this would entail.
Remove the Stigma
We are human therefore we all need breaks. We can’t always be online and accountable. There should be no shaming or blaming about the need for a break. Actively work to breakdown any stigma associated with taking the time to be well. Employees don’t have to feel bad about attending family related events during the workday because valuing a work/life balance is what’s important especially if the work that needs to get done gets done. In implementing a Well-at-Work Framework, employees should have ways to actively support and contribute to the wellbeing of their colleagues too in a way that allows each to contribute to a positive culture. This can be done in simple ways like covering for one another when each employee takes their time off or vacation from work or planning meetings around fitness classes or a colleague’s opportunity to volunteer or attend their child’s school event. Lastly, establish an ethic around using benefits like paid time off and promote a culture that supports taking time away from work. Build budgets and employment models that enhance employee benefits toward gains in employee well-being and the return on that investment will repay dividends.
Integrate a Wellness Culture and Philosophy of Supervision
Supervisors should be trained to look for signs of stress in staff and ask intentional questions and watch out for tell-tale signs of burnout and compassion fatigue. Welcome staff interest in attending regular scheduled yoga or other activities that contribute to well-being. Don’t be afraid to move a supervision meeting or end it early to accommodate those interests. Leaders should try new things that improve well-being themselves too so they can be both a model of good habits and become more knowledgeable about bringing balance and mindfulness to their own work/life balance. Maintaining unconditional positive regard for your clients is hard work but essential. When noticed by you yourself or others that this is waning attend to the task of refocusing, support others in their efforts to refocus and seek support from a supervisor in refocusing. Lastly, develop a committee to specifically focus as a group on workplace well-being. Any Well-at-Work Framework must have infrastructure and regular systematic attention in order to be maintained over time and developed and enriched for that matter.
Prevent and Debrief Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)
Put systems in place that prepare the organization to debrief any situations where secondary traumatic stress may impact a worker or any staff associated with trauma stemming from work. Make active efforts to protect staff who aren’t on the front line but work close to the people who do. On certain occasions these folks may not need to be the ones who file that case note or copy that court report. Also, make a proactive plan to prep beforehand and debrief after the fact when difficult situations are anticipated and then follow through on that plan. When you can’t plan ahead as in the case of an emerging situation, rapidly pull together a debrief and meet to follow up and check in on others and each other. Lastly, don’t judge your best efforts on the image of perfection. You can only proceed based on what you know at the time. Later apply a hotwash technique and recap the circumstances and the response to circumstances in an effort to innovate your process for the future. A Well-at-Work Framework is a framework imperfect by its nature of articulating details. Instead, a framework is adaptable and expandable and should overtime encompass practices that promote desired goals more holistically.
Because this work is never done. Gaining an edge is an ongoing process. This three part framework can be an effective way to build well-being in the workforce. But there are many ways to proceed. Regardless of the model or framework you use, adapt now to integrate a Well-at-Work Framework and the benefits may be just around the corner for your organization, your employees, and your consumers.
Sudol, T. (2009, August). Information Packet: Workforce Issues in Child Welfare. National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning (NRCFCPPP). Retrieved fromhttp://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/info_services/Sudol_Info%20Pack_Workforce%20Issues_Aug%202009.pdf
Resources for Further Reading
Learning and Living Leadership: A Tool Kit. (2013, September). Prepared by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute A Service of the Children’s Bureau, a member of the T/TA Network. downloaded fromhttp://ncwwi.org/files/LeadershipToolkitFinal_September2013.pdf#page=153
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) Website Resource Links Pagehttp://ncwwi.org/index.php/resource-library-search/resource-topics/supervision-performance-managemen