Adaptability is Key in a Social Service Career
Being an expert in your field may not be the highest qualification you possess for doing the job. It’s near the top, but even highly skilled workers need to be well-rounded socially – able to communicate well with others and settle differences with minimal effort. One trait that social service employers look for when hiring is versatility, including a willingness to provide support for coworkers.
Adaptability and willingness to take on responsibility are especially valued in the social service sphere. When dealing with human beings and their needs, there’s a great deal of overlap between specialisations, whether an employee works with a specific age group, focuses on addiction treatment, or specialises in mental health counselling. It’s helpful to be able to transfer skills to other areas in the social care space, and it’s a relief to have others helping to share the load.
When social care teams understand the basics of each other’s responsibilities, communication goes up a couple of notches. Information about the tasks of those adjacent to you in the workplace allows you to create realistic timelines for the completion of jobs. More importantly, it gives you and your coworkers additional help when it’s needed. This ability to cross over to other specialisations is often referred to as cross-training.
Cross-training is the training of employees to understand and perform job functions beyond the scope of their job descriptions. In social services, many positions have a natural overlap of duties that make them well-suited to sharing responsibilities. Also, when discrete skills are the specialty of only one or two people, an organisation can flounder when those experts are absent. On the other hand, having workers with overlapping skills and abilities increases the institutional knowledge and effectiveness of a department.
Other benefits include greater workforce:
One advantage that stands out for you as a worker is the preparation that cross-training gives for being promoted. If you can already perform some of the functions of a job that’s up for grabs, you’ll be an attractive candidate for that better paying position. When teams work together as a multi-functional unit, it also raises morale in the workplace. Sharing responsibility and knowing that someone has your back is a great way to enhance job satisfaction and reduce stress.
In the 2019 Australian Public Service Census, 93% of employees reported a willingness to go above and beyond their job description to achieve department goals, indicating a willingness to adapt to new conditions. Job satisfaction is tied to employees having the ability to use their skills and have an impact on the outcome, and shared responsibilities can encourage this. The first thing management should do is ask for input from the people who will be asked to spread their wings in this way.
One roadblock to encouraging task overlap might be territorialism from entrenched employees. That’s why the people on the ground who deal with issues daily should be consulted beforehand; transparency throughout the process will go a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers. Management should also explain that cross-training isn’t a scheme to add more responsibilities without more pay. The workload will remain the same, but staff will reap the benefits of smoother interactions, more support, and increased job satisfaction.
Growing a Versatile Workforce
Misunderstandings based on a lack of knowledge can be swept away as departments begin to have a greater understanding of each other’s challenges. Employees will feel a sense that they can influence positive outcomes and understand that their skills are relevant for more of the social care space. Cross-training can raise both the spirit and the skill of a workforce, and each impacts the other, creating a self-sustaining environment of effectiveness and employee satisfaction.