It took some time to work out how to supervise the senior administrative worker – it was clear that a different model was needed from that I used with the caseworkers. This was because the support staff had entered into a different ‘deal’ with their employer in taking their jobs. They had not taken the work to be agents of change with the clients. This is not to say that they were indifferent to the task of the agency – far from it. For some of them, the work was making a contribution to trying to prevent crime. For some, the work did reflect ambitions to help people. But they were still essentially being paid for providing practical functions. The extent to which it was permissible / appropriate for a supervisor to explore their emotional reactions to the work, and their professional development aspirations had to be individually judged and negotiated with sensitivity. Supervision therefore turned out to be more practical and ‘business’ focussed with more reflective discussions taking longer to emerge. (At a later stage of my time with this team, the senior administrative worker did leave to train as a probation officer.)
There was very little attention paid in my induction as a new manager to how to work with the support staff. It was very easy therefore for them to feel diminished as peripheral to the team, and therefore sometimes to become problematic. I saw this more frequently as a senior manager since fortunately both my managers prior to becoming one myself had seen the importance of support staff to the delivery of an effective service. It is very easy if support staff feel neglected for them to take a less committed approach to work – clock watching, absenteeism etc can all become part of a culture. Alternatively, sometimes staff would compensate for their felt peripheral status by becoming wedded to procedural rigidities whereby administrative practices take precedence over the quality of work delivered to clients. You only have to watch some reception practices in some offices to see how easily this can develop. It is then no use bemoaning the poor quality of the support staff – you have to take a hard look at the quality of team management.