Effective supervision in a variety of settings

The foundations of effective supervision practice: Emotional support

Recommendation 25 states that ‘Supervisors should consider how they can give emotional support in a way that does not increase feelings of burnout, but reflects on these feelings in a way that builds positive emotional outcomes’.

Research evidence has clearly identified the importance of emotional support as an aspect of the supervisory process, helping with stress, anxiety and the pressure of high workloads. This cannot however be delivered within a vacuum and is likely to be most successful within the context of a safe, positive supervisory relationship. The elements of this guide that apply to the development of this relationship, including paying attention to creating a safe environment for supervision, where the boundaries of confidentiality are explicit, will assist supervisors in this task.

You may wish to consider the varying ways in which emotional support can be carried out within your organisation. It is likely to occur not only within formal supervisory meetings but also during informal or ad hoc encounters such as listening to someone who has just had a difficult time, taking time to ask a member of staff how they are doing when you know they are busy, and saying thank you for completing a challenging piece of work. In fact, the practice evidence is that the availability of ‘informal supervision’ with the supervisor being available when needed is an important element of the support provided by supervisors.

As well as the human response of the supervisor to their supervisee, the duty of care from an employer to its employees is bound by legislation and underpins the way staff are supervised. It is specifically within the area of emotional support that shortfalls tend to occur and there are case examples (e.g. Newcastle City Council) where the failure to provide proper support and management of workload within the supervisory relationship has led to debilitating stress and illness. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has developed management standards to combat work-related stress which provide a useful resource for supervisors.

Issues raised in supervision relating to the emotional impact of the work itself or challenges concerning the performance of the supervisee may be a cause of emotional stress. The development of the supervision agreement will provide an opportunity to acknowledge this in advance and to make sure that the supervisee knows what to do should this become an issue that they feel requires third-party intervention. The research supports the need for supervisors to be trained in how to work skilfully in these situations to achieve the best outcome for the worker, their people who use services and the organisation.


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Available downloads:

  • Effective supervision in a variety of settings
  • Service user and carer involvement in the supervision of health and social care workers: seminar report
  • Practice enquiry into supervision in a variety of adult care settings where there are health and social care practitioners working together
  • Narrative summary of the evidence review on supervision of social workers and social care workers in a range of settings including integrated settings