How supervision can help care workers improve their practice

Care work is emotionally demanding but research shows that good supervision can help managers get the best out of staff, says Stephen Goulder, workforce director of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie).

Improve your supervision

Sharon Lambley, director of CPD programmes at Sussex University, will speak on best practice in supervision in social care at Community Care’s forthcoming Supporting managers in social work conference, on 13 March in London. Register now to book your place. 

It’s perhaps an obvious thing to say, but, in any setting, if supervision is of good quality, then people have better job satisfaction and commitment to their job, and tend to stay longer. However, this is also borne out by research. Our recent research briefing, Effective supervision in social work and social care, looks at the critical role that good supervision plays in delivering good social care.

The starting point is that social care practice is relationship-based and, at times, emotionally complex. This can place particular demands on the workforce, meaning that consistent and effective supervision must take place. The research suggests that good one-to-one supervision has the following features: it occurs regularly in a safe environment, it is based on a respectful relationship, and the process is understood and valued and is embedded in the organisational culture. Through regular, structured meetings with a supervisor, care staff can develop their understanding and improve their practice.

What is supervision?

The primary functions of supervision are: administrative case management; reflecting on and learning from practice; personal support; professional development; and mediation, in which the supervisor acts as a bridge between the individual staff member and the organisation they work for. Organisations are likely to succeed by having workers who are skilful, knowledgeable, clear about their roles, and who are assisted in their practice by sound advice and emotional support. This should come from a supervisor with whom they have a good professional relationship.

Research into what happens within supervision suggests that effective supervision generates good outcomes for workers while experience suggests that “the consequences of absent, inadequate, or negative forms of supervision poses a threat to workforce stability, capacity, confidence, competence and morale”. 

Supervision’s effect on the workforce

Of the social care organisations we visited, there were strong views from senior management about “supervision being the spine of a social care organisation and that staff must be supported in reflective practice”. Supervision is also thought to be important when building emotional resilience as, for example, caring for people in the last stages of their life can be stressful, as well as rewarding. In another organisation we visited, a support worker spoke of being able to talk about challenging racist behaviour in his supervision session, and how this then affected his work. He said he felt listened to in supervision and this was important to him in carrying out his role.

The research briefing covers evidence on the use of different models of supervision and outcomes for workers, employers, service users and carers. It considers evidence on the costs of supervision and concludes with implications for policy-makers, practitioners, organisations, service users, carers and researchers.

Scie will shortly publish a practice guide on effective supervision, with some key recommendations based on the available evidence. The guide will cover leadership, organisational culture, frequency of supervision, and the foundations of good practice.
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