The Relationship between the supervisor and the supervised

I have long thought that many management approaches to staff supervision are often based on a very unsafe and unnecessary assumption. The view seems to be that professionals are intelligent and well motivated individuals who therefore can be allowed to get on with their work with minimum supervision unless a problem arises. Problems are seen as exceptional. My own view from early on in this work was that however intelligent and well motivated the individual professional, the nature of the work is inherently confusing and problematic. Indeed, it has been my experience that it is good staff who find themselves in difficulty and know they need help. Poorer staff either do not engage with the clients sufficiently to have any difficulty, or identify so closely with the clients that they are unable to distinguish a problem from a non problem. The unsafe assumption generates a real difficulty for the manager because it means that their taking an interest in a situation necessarily means that they must think it is a difficulty that needs to be put right – the supervised worker is then immediately on the defensive.

My Grendon staff member that I discussed in the last chapter operated on that basis. There was no need to tell me of her relationship because it was not, in her mind, a problem. The supervisor would only be interested if there were a difficulty that needed to be tackled, and so when I reacted to the news of the relationship as if there was something to discuss, it must mean that I was saying their relationship was such a difficulty. Therefore she had to fight me and defend against whatever I might be saying.

There is however a necessary tension between the supervisor and the supervisee, between worker and client. It is one of the early issues at the start of a career, to come up against this tension, its nature and sometimes the significance of its apparent absence.


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