THE STAFF SUPERVISOR'S ROLE IN MAINTAINING MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES
If the staff supervisor has been involved with the clinician in the training and supervision of staff during the initial change process, his/her continued involvement will be necessary for maintaining the changes in activities. If the supervisor was not involved early on for whatever reason, it is essential that the supervisor become involved during the maintenance process. The advantage of having front-line supervisors of staff involved particularly during the maintenance process is several-fold.
The first advantage is that supervisors usually are present in the work setting with direct support staff on a routine basis to fulfill typical supervisory responsibilities, such as conveying information about work schedules, orienting new staff, and generally overseeing staff work activities. As a result, supervisors are in a position to monitor and provide feedback concerning staff activities with a given participant group much more often than the clinician. Additionally, when supervisors regularly observe and give staff feedback both formally and informally, over time the supervisor’s presence in the work area itself can function to prompt staff to focus on their responsibility of providing meaningful activities.
A second advantage of active supervisor involvement in the maintenance process pertains to an effect on supervisors themselves. When supervisors regularly give staff feedback about observed meaningful versus nonmeaningful activities, the supervisors’ skills necessary to recognize the differences between the two types of activities are likely to maintain (i.e., relative to supervisors having no involvement in formal observations once initial training has been completed). Maintenance of such skills by supervisors is critical for them to be able to help staff continue to provide meaningful activities for their participants.
A third advantage is that feedback provided to staff by a supervisor usually carries more weight than feedback from someone who is outside the supervisory chain of command—such as a behavior analyst or other clinician as noted in Chapter 6, A Staff Training and Supervision Plan to Increase Meaningful Activities. To review briefly, staff tend to care what their supervisors think about their performance because supervisors have access to contingencies important to staff such as granting time off or approving preferred work schedules. Also, supervisors can take into consideration staff efforts in providing meaningful activities during formal performance reviews as part of an agency’s employee appraisal process. Such reviews impact consideration for promotions and salary increases, which also are very important for staff.
When considering the role of the staff supervisor in conducting formal monitoring sessions, an issue can arise that warrants attention. Some supervisors may inadvertently bias the monitoring data by tending to monitor more frequently during time periods when staff are providing meaningful activities relative to periods when nonmeaningful activities are more prevalent. Conversely, supervisors can be reluctant to follow through with monitoring when they expect that staff are not performing as well as expected.
Supervisor reluctance to monitor during times when they expect staff are not performing particularly well occurs because giving corrective feedback in such situations can be unpleasant for the supervisors. Supervisors also may feel pressure from agency superiors to provide information that reflects desirable services such as high levels of meaningful activities. Hence, supervisors may tend to avoid monitoring when they suspect the data will show lower levels. Supervisors may likewise be concerned that if their monitoring data indicate continued occurrence of nonmeaningful activities, the data will reflect poorly on their own job performance.
When supervisors succumb to the tendency to monitor only when they know staff will perform well, staff often have less of an incentive to improve the lesser quality activities occurring at other times during the day. The clinician can help supervisors overcome this tendency by pointing out to supervisors that fluctuations in data for meaningful activities are to be expected. The clinician can also help by noting that as long as the data overall usually conform to the maintenance goal, periodic drops in levels of meaningful activities are not a serious problem.
In addition to regularly monitoring and providing feedback, supervisors should be encouraged to consider other ways to reinforce staff provision of meaningful activities. Although a thorough description of various ways supervisors can reinforce and otherwise motivate staff performance is beyond the scope of this manual, a number of other sources are available (see Reid & Parsons, 2006, for an in-depth discussion). By routinely giving feedback supplemented with other reinforcement strategies, supervisors will be making it apparent to staff that providing meaningful activities is not a short-term initiative that will fade in importance over time but instead, is the agency’s expected way of operating on a permanent basis.
Involvement of the front-line supervisor in monitoring and providing feedback to staff is critical for maintaining staff provision of meaningful activities for center participants.