How Reflective Supervision Can Increase Retention

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Quiet Quitting, Loud Quitting, The Great Resignation, Coasting Culture and so on—these are symptoms of a nonplussed workforce. Being an “employer of choice” is widely desired. We support the programs, agencies, and systems we serve to achieve that goal, in part, through onboarding their leadership team to Reflective Supervision. As someone once said, “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors.”


Almost everyone you talk to these days feels stressed, tired, and burnt out. According to the APA, many Americans report that their stress levels are increasing and their mental health is “fair to poor.”


Not all of it is related to work, of course. Many factors contribute to our daily stressors and feeling like we can’t reach that healthy work-life balance. But when people are stressed, it’s hard for them to engage at work—this can lead to a range of the symptoms shared above. For this article, we’ll explore how to shift the trend and be an employer of choice through the lens of “quiet quitting” and how Reflective Supervision training can help leaders empower and help their teams reengage.


What is Quiet Quitting?

When emotional reserves are depleted and folks feel stressed, it’s tough to do a “good job.”, to contribute their gifts, talents, and genius. More importantly, to want to. Further, it’s difficult for people to feel good about their job (even if their work may still appear to others as good or adequate).


During the Covid-19 pandemic and over the last several years, a trend emerged called quiet quitting. Quiet quitting is subtle disengagement. Despite being physically present at work, people withdraw emotionally and mentally from their roles.


Some people learned how to get by with doing less at work. When demands at home and outside work needed to be met, they reprioritized. In some cases, these were net positive changes as people shifted to finding ways to enjoy life more. In other ways, it created greater stress on colleagues and others who picked up the slack.


Quiet quitting is also a privilege. Many folks couldn’t disengage from demanding jobs. They aren’t in a position to explore and adjust their work-life balance, which can lead to a situation where work is constantly daunting and demoralizing. It can cause adverse health effects and many other issues—which, in turn, leads to further disengagement and lower capacity for performance.


In many ways, disengagement and quiet quitting reflect the silent erosion of passion, commitment, and a sense of purpose and meaning at work. The elusive signs can be difficult to pinpoint and detect at first and, consequently, challenging for supervisors and leaders to be responsive.


Often, people experience a decline in enthusiasm for their work. They may feel apathetic or less productive. They aren’t experiencing flow or satisfaction. They show up, but there is a demonstrable lack of investment. At the root, it’s often because of external stressors and uncertainties, a feeling of being undervalued, or the perception that one’s contributions aren’t noticed. It can also be due to ethical issues within the organization, the quality of supervision and leadership, and a lack of being valued and a sense of belonging.


This type of disengagement is heavy! As leaders in human services fields, many of us may shudder to think that we’re inadvertently causing employees and colleagues to experience these feelings and contribute to their distress. It’s especially concerning when many of our roles are tied to human and community wellness. Experiencing burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious traumatization. What kind of ripple effect are we creating or enhancing? How can we support critical thinking to reduce high turnover and increase wellness in organizations and retention?


Now, of course, many stressors aren’t directly tied to employment. We are much more than just our job or “what we do” for a living. But there’s also a great deal related to our identity and work-life satisfaction that comes from a job where we’re helping others and making a difference. When teachers, mental health professionals, counselors, coaches, healthcare providers, and therapists aren’t getting that satisfaction, it can lead to attrition and employment shortages in these vital fields. All of this is compounded by a shrinking workforce and an increasingly diverse workforce (reasonably) requiring their self-ascribed identity to be recognized and prized.


Playing into the sense of quiet quitting can also be compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. Without focusing on wellness in the workplace, providers can’t stay…well, healthy. How does a healer heal when they themselves are struggling?


How Reflective Supervision Can Help Boost Engagement and Wellness 

One way that leadership can support improving engagement, resolve the quiet quitting phenomena, and boost a healthy, safe, positive workspace is through Reflective Supervision.


Reflective Supervision is different from administrative supervision or a clinical supervision session. Administrative supervision consists of activities, technical assistance, and oversight, such as ensuring team members do their timecards, correctly record case notes, and on. Clinical supervisors oversee cases and coach. They may gather staff in monthly meetings or hold regular check-ins, but these types of supervision are focused on work efforts.


Reflective Supervision is when leaders provide opportunities for team members—professionals and support staff—to come to them and discuss what THEY need to discuss. Reflective dialogue builds a more equitable and inclusive supervisory relationship that fosters professional growth amongst staff members. Reflective Supervision supports staff to attend to their wellness, express themselves for who they are, value their identity and culture, and tune them into organizational practices and vibes with their artistry.


To some, the practice may sound counter to the “work is work” mentality, but the practice of Reflective Supervision is an evidence-based practice that has proven itself to lead to improved employee wellness outcomes and better employee retention. The practice emerged from the “birth to three early intervention movement”—an early childhood intervention program that supports the wellness of young children.


Early childhood case managers and social workers were working with kids and families, where they were pinched between the traumatic stories and situations they were seeing on a day-to-day basis and the requirements of the system and agencies where they served. Developers of reflective supervision saw the need for more effective relationships between leadership and staff. They discovered that engaging in a reflective practice effectively balances wellness and satisfaction, even in high-stress roles like family and mental health services.


In the parallel between offering human services and providing Trauma-Informed Care, it’s not just about who we serve but about taking care of ourselves. We want to “do unto others as we would have them do unto others” (Jeree Pawl & Maria St. John, 1998.) This is true of ourselves as well. In Reflective Supervision, feelings are examined and processed to prevent stressors that lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious traumatization.


If your staff uses Motivational Interviewing or any person-centered approach to care, then you likely see the benefits of applying a similar person-centered approach to team interactions as well. The results of Reflective Supervision include an increased sense of belonging, higher retention rates, and folks who are more invested and skillful in their work because they’re addressing those outside stressors and practicing self-care. Here’s some data to reinforce that:

“At the post-assessment, participants also rated their overall experience of reflective supervision. Reported self-efficacy increased significantly from pre- to post-assessment, and participants reported a positive overall impact of reflective supervision with respect to a variety of indices, such as job satisfaction, professional development, and the ability to cope with job-related stress. These results provide necessary quantitative data demonstrating a positive impact of reflective supervision on early childhood professionals and suggest the value of reflective supervision for supporting workforce development.” [1]

And from a different study: [2]

“For the supervisees in this study, feelings of safety and trust within the supervisor-supervisee relationship, consistency and predictability of the supervisory sessions, the non-judgmental responses of the supervisor, and the capacity of both the supervisor and supervisee to be emotionally present during supervision stood out as essential components of RS. For instance, supervisees described that when supervisors honored their perspective without judgment, they set the stage for relationships where supervisees felt valued and accepted. Consequently, they felt comfortable sharing a range of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that allowed for exploration, understanding, and learning. Further, supervisees described that consistency and predictability within RS supported the development of a foundation for the supervisory relationship; when RS meetings were routinely scheduled and consistent, there were more opportunities for interactions, relationship building, and learning.”

Reflective Supervision is an excellent professional development tool that helps people succeed in their current roles and advance into higher roles. At the core, this relationship-based practice supports Motivational Interviewing implementation because it essentially applies MI in the course of supervision. Leadership models the work, and MI creates a common culture of service, supports rapid engagement with clients, and offers the structure to have better conversations in less time with a greater impact.


Understanding the Reflective Supervision Process

At Share Collaborative, we offer training and support for leadership to help develop Reflective Supervision skills. Reach out if you would like to explore more about how to support your team on their journey to wellness with Reflective Supervision training programs and resources, or come check it out at one of these upcoming opportunities.


At the core, Reflective Supervision is collaborative and supportive of critical self-reflection. The approach creates a space for team members to explore their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to their work in a safe, non-judgmental space. In essence, Reflective Supervision focuses on creating an environment to nurture self-awareness, encourage open dialogue, and foster a sense of belonging. Supervisors facilitate and provide ongoing support for their colleagues.


During a reflective supervision session, leaders acknowledge the unique challenges faced in the workplace (particularly in human services) and recognize the job’s demands and how they intertwine with personal experiences, social identities, and wellbeing. By addressing these multifaceted aspects, this approach to leadership becomes a catalyst for holistic growth and engagement.


Reflective supervision consists of active listening, empathizing, validation, and providing a space for open, honest communication. Reflective Supervision is an empowering approach to professional development and communication that those in supervisory roles embrace to support the growth of their direct service staff efficiently. During a supervision encounter, the supervisor guides the staff person through the following conversation structure:


  • Description of the situation: The employee shares the background of the problem.
  • Identification of feelings and thoughts: What emotions and thoughts surfaced during the situation?
  • Evaluation: How did the person feel that the situation went? What could have gone better?
  • Analysis: The employee reflects on the situation and shares their sense of it.
  • Conclusion: The leader invites the team members to share perspectives and ideas of what they might do differently in the future.
  • Plan: The employee creates a concrete plan to achieve the conclusion.

At Share, Reflective Supervision is a component of our Healing Focused Care model to create a culture of service. Reflective Supervision supports an MI implementation and is enhanced by Cultural Reverence to support and provide culturally responsive leadership and communication.


The impact of Reflective Supervision ripples through the organizational fabric. It influences team dynamics and fosters a sense of connection, empowerment, and buy-in. While it’s particularly important for those in leadership roles for direct service providers, Reflective Supervision can be employed in any workplace to strengthen the organizational culture. When leaders follow the best practice guidelines to prioritize the skills of active listening, open communication, and goal-oriented development, they’re laying the groundwork for an environment where humans thrive.


Reflective supervision is much more than just a managerial practice or style. It’s a commitment to nurturing the wellbeing of your organization. It supports the individual’s strengths and helps them reach their potential while also strengthening the organization as a whole and the community your team serves.


Reach out for more on adopting Reflective Supervision in your organization. We’d be honored to hear from you!

[1] Impact of Reflective Supervision …

[2] A Qualitative Study of Reflective Supervision from The Supervisee Perspective: An Ecological View

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