Ask the Expert - Finding Balance: How to Provide Appropriate Support as a Job Coach
Posted on 02/25/19 in Employment by Chris Carpenter
If you ask anyone who works with individuals on the spectrum, or anyone in a social service setting for that matter, why they went into the specific type of work that they did, whether it is a teacher, case manager or job coach, it's certainly plausible to assume that most, if not all of them, would respond with some form of an answer that identifies a desire to help people. It is perhaps in this primordial thought that the best of intentions presents the potential for unnecessary consequences. Perhaps more often than we should, social service professionals want to get involved, do more, and really try to help those in need. In many instances, the desire to be involved in such ways is more than just helpful, it is crucial to ensure people are being supported in ways that are most appropriate.
However, the real challenges that social service professionals are faced with are almost always rooted in two core constructs. First, they must prudently identify exactly when support is needed, and second, specifically how much of said support is actually needed. If too little support is provided, individuals in need of services are left unserved or underserved. In this scenario, needs go unmet. Yet if too much support is provided, individuals are prevented from experiencing the types of less restrictive and more autonomous environments that afford opportunities for learning and growth. Moreover, they become reliant on a professional to do things for them that they could and should be learning to do for themselves. In the context of employment and job coaching, this type of clarity from a professional can be the determining factor in whether or not an employment opportunity becomes a successful employment outcome.
While this type of diagnostic ability sounds simple and straight forward, in practice it can be incredibly difficult. Both the diagnosis and the intervention are contextual to the people involved, and the workplace milieu. What is apropos varies from business to business, and person to person. While I'm sure there are many professionals that perform this type of decision-making prudently everyday, with respect to employment services, the over-utilization of professional support coupled with the under-utilization of natural supports seems far too ubiquitous. It seems as though it is far easier to over-support in the employment arena because so much is unknown, and so much is on the line. This seems especially prevalent during the beginning days of new employment. As soon as someone is offered a job, professionals scramble to be ready for whatever supports are needed day one. Perhaps professionals forget that every new employee in any business will need more supports from employers and coworkers on day one, than say day three hundred.
Rather than arriving on day one with the thought of intervening as minimally as possible, job coaches seem to arrive on day one with a new employee ready to mitigate any burden the business may feel, and perhaps unconsciously attempt to affirm their role, by doing something, anything, and possibly doing more than is necessary. Sometimes less is more, and this is one of those times. Whether it's a small family business or a large corporation, the beginning point of any plan that leads to the "least restrictive" environment starts with setting in place the fewest restrictions possible and then adding in to fill the gaps rather than taking away what becomes superfluous.
For me, this answer in theory (as it relates to job coaching) has seemed simple for so long; start with the fewest amount of additional "supports" beyond the naturally occurring supports that the business already has in place for any of their employees.
Next, observe, assess and identify where there are gaps. If things are missing or needed, but are not necessarily exigent to address, offer the opportunity for the business to discover how to support their new employee differently. If they struggle to develop a solution, or a need a scaffolded approach from a more knowledgeable party, offer assistance. In the end, the employer has just as much of an investment in that new employee being successful as the job coach, probably more. Perhaps the problem that this manifests into in practice is a presupposition from job coaches that they are there to help a person, the new employee, and then therefore they must do something for them.
The truth is: the best way to do something for them is to help all parties engaged in this brand new workplace interaction. Supporting a business, an employer, a supervisor, or a coworker to better understand how to work with and best support their new employee is far more effective and sustainable, than to set the precedent that this new employee needs something that is normally not available to anyone else. When job coaching is needed and is a critical accommodation, it should definitely be utilized, but it shouldn't be a standard simply because we are a field of professionals that want to help people. In the end, over-utilizing unnecessary supports is not helping people. It is preventing the natural supports (that all humans access at various points in their lives) from developing.
Interested in learning more about what supports may benefit you or your loved one? Milestones can connect you with the resources you need. Call our team at 216.464.7600.
Chris Carpenter is the Strategic Analysis Manager for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities (CCBDD), a local government agency that annually serves more than 12,000 individuals from the Greater Cleveland area. In this role, Chris assists the board in analyzing, developing, and implementing performance and operational measurement functions, and is the Program Administrator for the Board’s State Vocational Rehabilitation contract. Chris also oversees CCBDD’s Business Engagement team, and their region wide Business Engagement Initiative. He has previous experience in supervising Job Placement Services, Supported Employment Services, Job Coaching, Summer Work programs, and Adult Day Services. Chris holds a Master of Science in Education from the University of Akron, a Master of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling from Kent State University, and is a Certified Employment Support Professional.