Stepping into the world of Social Work

Too much like social workers?

An interesting comment my new boss has made at least twice in my presence is that sometimes job coaches try to do “too much social work.”

The context was the example of the disabled employee who neglects personal hygiene to the point where it jeopardizes his job. Examples would be not showering, not shaving, dirty clothes, and other such matters. My boss is of the opinion (And I agree with him to an extent)  that the proper role of the job coach is to allow the employer’s ordinary policies and procedures to take effect – verbal and written warnings, being sent home, suspension and termination. I got the impression that he seemed to disapprove of job coaches who did anything more than encourage the employer to follow their normal procedures with the coach verbally reinforcing with the client what might happen.

I will agree that the employer can and should follow the normal procedures. Obviously, there are very good reasons to treat the disabled employee in the same fashion as everyone else, and the procedures are fair enough that they should apply to our clients as well. I have had employers look to me for permission to take the next step in their policies, and I have always supported the employer in this regard. Typically the employer will give a disabled employee an extra warning or two to ensure there has not been a miscommunication and to allow for any extra time a disabled client might need to improve.  In many cases, this is all that is needed.

However, I also believe the purpose of a job coach is to supplement the training and supervision the employer provides. For example, while a non-disabled 18 year old would be expected to pick up the job of courtesy clerk (including hygiene/clothing standards) with the training and supervision the supermarket gives, the coach is there for the disabled employee to provide the extra training and guidance the employer wouldn’t have time for. So if a hygiene or appearance issue comes up, it does seem appropriate to me for the coach to have a discussion with the client about how they can improve the situation.

Obviously, all you need to say about showers, shaving, and deodorant is “every day.” But if clothes aren’t clean, perhaps the person might need some advice and advocacy on that issue. Perhaps the employer can provide more uniform shirts.  Perhaps the client simply needs to be reminded to set more time aside for laundry. If they are receiving services in their home, perhaps coordination with that staff might improve the situation (purchasing more clothes or doing laundry better, for example). Perhaps there is an interpersonal situation at home that is interfering and their disability prevents them from seeing it.

Too much like social work? Maybe. But that’s part of what I’m there for!

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