Performance management covers day-to-day supervision, professional reviews and career development. It creates a context that can help peer workers understand how their work aligns with the overall goals of the organisation, and the part they play in achieving these goals. This knowledge often makes them more productive, enthusiastic and committed. Good performance management can also identify underperformance and its reasons (whether work related or personal) before it becomes a significant problem. It helps with workforce development and career planning and allows an opportunity to reflect on skills gaps and productive training.
Supervision and line management
Line management should be distinguished from professional supervision. The line managers of peer workers have responsibility for:
- the allocation of workloads and overseeing their completion
- day to day OH&S matters
- ensuring resources are available to undertake the role
- the provision of advice regarding immediate concerns and problems
- regular team meetings
- leave approvals
- compliance with policies and procedures
- probation periods
- annual professional development reviews
- the annual performance development and training plans
- issues related to the workplace and role
- the arrangement of workplace accommodations.
Ideally, peer workers should be line managed by other peer workers. Alternatively, their managers should have either a formal relationship or an informal arrangement with a peer worker leader or a peer-run provider of training and supervision. This will give them the opportunity to discuss and understand peer values, peer roles, and peer practice issues and tensions.
Professional supervision, on the other hand, evaluates how well peer workers are using their peer worker skills in the work environment, and the challenges, issues, dilemmas and tensions they encounter in practice. The supervisor in this instance needs to be a more experienced peer worker who can provide the structure and a safety net to make the position viable and successful. Peer worker supervision provides structure to:
- reflect upon and review current working practices
- examine and explore strategies in working with particular consumers or situations, where this can be undertaken in a confidential context
- debrief on any work-related issues
- explore new practices, developments, ideas and perspectives related to the peer workers and critically evaluate them
- monitor and support the peer worker’s wellbeing and coping capacity in relation to their work
- problem solve
- explore career development opportunities.
Peer supervision works best when the supervisor develops a partnership relationship that promotes mutual reflection on working practices. Organisations unable to offer an experienced peer worker as a supervisor should find an outside supervisor. This might also be appropriate for a peer worker who would prefer an external supervisor. Peer worker supervisors should be offered training in providing peer worker supervision.
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Peer workers, like other employees, must be held accountable for doing their job well. Performance reviews, both formal and informal, encourage peer workers’ ongoing success and satisfaction. A structured, regular performance appraisal or review creates an opportunity for peer workers to raise issues and concerns and to express their opinions about their work, or the organisation’s culture. Performance reviews allow all parties to assess the peer worker’s work.
An annual (or more regular) review and performance meeting allows the manager and/or supervisor to establish goals and activities aligned with the peer worker’s role and career aspirations. A formal review that measures how each party is meeting agreed goals can also help to address any conflicting expectations.
The Australian Human Rights Commission provides the following advice for managing performance concerns for workers, including peer workers and other employees with lived experience of mental illness:
- take into account personal circumstances that may contribute to a worker’s performance issue, as you would for all workers
- consider whether a mental illness may be contributing to the poor performance
- consider the seriousness of the performance concern (for more serious matters, such as violence, there may be no option but to take strong disciplinary action regardless of whether there is a reason, such as a mental illness)
- consider whether the performance concern relates to a key part of the job or if the work could be adjusted to address or avoid a recurrence of the particular concern
- encourage and enable the worker to discuss the performance concern and whether there are any health issues that may have impacted on their performance.
Organisations should periodically reflect on the lessons of the review process. The lessons might lead to changes in the workplace plan itself, the way it is being implemented or to other policies, procedures and practices in order to deliver better services.
Experienced peer workers recommend that managers do not automatically accept the resignation of a peer worker who is away from work due to mental illness. Instead, treat the person as you would another staff member on leave for illness. As one experienced peer worker explains ‘support the person to get back to work as soon as possible, even if it is on reduced hours’. See if the person ‘still wants to resign once they are back into the routine of work’.
As with all employees, peer workers will have career objectives beyond the job they are currently doing. They are likely to think about the jobs they want to do and the skills they need to do them. When you manage the performance of peer workers, you can encourage individual career goals and help to develop a career plan. This plan can be evaluated at regular intervals, in conjunction with performance reviews.
The benefits of working with peer workers to develop their skills and achieve their goals includes improved morale and a more motivated workforce. It will also enhance your reputation as a preferred employer which, in turn, will attract job seekers the next time you need to recruit.
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When a peer worker leaves your organisation, an exit interview can capture information that may not otherwise be available to you. An exit interview gives you the opportunity to find out whether your peer worker found the organisation to be ‘peer worker friendly’ and, if they didn’t, you can ask what barriers they found and what potential solutions there might be. If you know why someone has left, you may be able to make changes in the workplace so others don’t leave for the same reasons. Exit interviews may reveal a whole range of issues about working conditions, job design, and inter-office relationships including management problems, misleading recruitment practices, inadequate training opportunities and general morale. You can also learn about what does work and what should be developed.
Bear in mind that the point of an exit interview is not to interrogate the peer worker who is leaving, but to gather useful information. Ask questions that allow your peer worker to give as much information as they wish.