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Effective workplace communication with employees with psychiatric disability

Chapters

Implementation guide

This section is designed to assist people delivering or coordinating staff training to use Work Talk most effectively, either in group training sessions or as an aid to individual, self-paced learning by individual staff members.

Purpose and focus

The main aim of Work Talk is to bring together information about, and strategies for, effective workplace communication between support staff and supported employees in Disability Employment Services. Effective communication is critical in any workplace, particularly between people who have supervisory or supporting roles and the people they are supporting or directing.

The focus is on communication – the skills, what makes communication effective, how to know when to use particular strategies, and practising those strategies.

Work Talk is designed to be used in a number of ways:

You may want staff to work through the workbook on their own, and at their own pace. If you are encouraging people to do this, suggest that they use the notes section of each topic to record either additional strategies that they use, or as a reminder of work situations or interactions with particular people where they are going to use one of the suggested strategies.

Because Work Talk is organised around a range of typical workplace communication situations, it can be a useful tool for tackling communication difficulties. For example, if there is a problem getting the message about safety across to a supported employee, the strategies suggested in Talking about safety topic in this resource, might be helpful.

Communication issues can often be at the bottom of other workplace problems. A section of Work Talk – perhaps just one of the case studies or a set of strategies – can provide a 'neutral' way of beginning a discussion rather than launching straight into the actual workplace problem.

The topics in Work Talk are deliberately brief. They can be covered in 30 to 45 minute training sessions. Hints and tips for structuring a training session using a Work Talk topic follow.

Case studies, diary extracts, strategies or whole topics from Work Talk can be used as resources for communication skills development in other training programs.

In addition to the printed copy of the workbook, your service will have received an accompanying CD which contains a set of .pdf files. They are:

This gives you the opportunity to print multiple copies of all or parts of the workbook for use by staff. We suggest that if you are planning to use the entire workbook over a period of time you provide each staff member with a folder and add to the materials as you are preparing to use them.

Hints for running facilitated sessions

Here are a few hints for conducting a discussion or a training session using Work Talk.

Remember that Work Talk is not formal, accredited training – it's a learning tool and a practical guide to effective communication between support staff and supported employees with psychiatric disability. It is unlikely that you'll be running formal training. In fact it is a good idea to keep the atmosphere informal.

Your role

We've described you as a 'facilitator' quite deliberately. You are helping (assisting, facilitating) people to broaden the range of communication strategies they have at their disposal. This involves giving access to information (from the materials in the workbook and from other sources), assisting people to share their knowledge and experience with others, encouraging them to be open to ideas and suggestions and strategies from others in the group, and developing awareness of own skills and learning needs.

It is not as hard as it sounds, but there are things to remember about what not to do as a facilitator. Try not to:

Preparation

Using the materials

Aside from the introduction, each topic follows a standard format.

Presentation

Each topic is presented over four pages. The first page is a heading and 'preview' of the topic. The second and third pages contain the background information, case studies, diary notes and strategies. The fourth page is a notes page.

Background

This is theoretical or background information relevant to the topic. For example, in the topic 'Talking about talking and listening', the background information is about effective communication and barriers.

You could use this material by:

Case studies

People in the case studies are supported employees and support staff from Merrinvale Enterprises.

Merrinvale Enterprises opened in 1972 to provide 'sheltered' employment to people with disability. It has undergone many changes in the past 30 years and has been certified under the Disability Services Standards since 2003. In the last financial year, Merrinvale's grant from the government was $980,000, and the business activities generated $2.3 million.

The diagram below describes Merrinvale's structure and business. Merrinvale has 5 divisions including:

Space Cake Cookie Company (supervised by Nathan, with Carmen, Lallie, Alex and Peter the supported employees)

Merri-Clean (supervised by Mai Lin with Lisa and Aaron the supported employees)

Pikkenpak (supervised by Em, with Trevor and Cleo the supported employees)

Frame Up (supervised by Paul, with Annika, Malcolm, Robbie and Van the supported employees)

Grassed Off (supervised by Fran, with Drago and James the supported employees)

This diagram describes Merrinvale's structure and business. Merrinvale has 5 divisions including: Space Cake Cookie Company (supervised by Nathan, with Carmen, Lallie, Alex and Peter the supported employees).  Merri-Clean (supervised by Mai Lin with Lisa and Aaron the supported employees).  Pikkenpak (supervised by Em, with Trevor and Cleo the supported employees).  Frame Up (supervised by Paul, with Annika, Malcolm, Robbie and Van the supported employees).  Grassed Off (supervised by Fran, with Drago and James the supported employees)

A number of the supervisors keep diaries or notes which allow us to see how they deal with some of the challenges in their daily work.

The case studies are put together in a range of ways. In some cases a behaviour or incident is simply described; in others you will also be given insights into the approach to communication with supported employees of Merrinvale's support staff.

The case studies can be used as a basis for discussion. You could explore:

Be aware that people might 'recognise' themselves or their own behaviour in the case studies and, in some cases, may not like what they see. This may lead to them defending what was said or done and may create conflict in the group. A way to handle that is to deflect the discussion with a question like 'What could Em have done instead?' or 'If you were advising Nathan on this issue, what would you suggest he did?' rather than asking 'What did Em do here that was wrong?'.

Strategies

These are suggestions for practical ways to improve workplace communication between support staff and supported employees with psychiatric disability. They are just that – suggestions – and will not fit every situation or solve every problem.

As well as reading them through with the group and talking about the ideas they present try:

Notes

Obviously this last page is designed for people to make their own notes on the topic covered. You might suggest they:

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