Boosting Supervisory Skills for a Better Workplace

24 Dec 2014

24 December 2014

Port au Prince – “A good supervisor is honest, direct, trust-worthy and really knows how to resolve conflicts,” says Lizette Etienne, a 38 year-old garment worker from Port au Prince. Lizette speaks from experience, a line worker for many years she was promoted to a supervisor when her superiors noted that she was performing well.

Today, she supervises 20 workers but like many in the role she did not have any kind of formal training on how to manage people successfully and help them reach their targets.

Lizette says that as a promoted ‘ex’ worker she feels that she has a good understanding of the workers’ issues but there is also a downside, as, being promoted above others changes the relationship with the friends and colleagues she now supervises.

At the same time, in the higher ranks of the factory, supervisors are not necessarily being seen as part of the management. Lizette says that they are “in the middle of the sandwich”, not really belonging to either group.  It’s difficult to find the right balance: helping workers and responding to their needs but also keeping productivity on track.

In order to improve communications and relations between workers and supervisors and help morale, motivation and productivity, Better Work Haiti (BWH) in 2014 is training approximately 500 of Haiti’s garment sector supervisors, and workers who may become supervisors. They learn skills such as relationship building, directing through influence, professional behaviour, and other skills for better managing workers.

The three-day intensive Supervisor Skills Training takes place in factory settings and, to help supervisors learn from each other, has supervisors from different factories participating in the same sessions.

Louis Edher Decoste, Training  Officer, Better Work Haiti says: “Supervisory Skills Training is designed to give supervisors and middle managers a deeper understanding of important leadership and supervision concepts. Participants are trained to avoid a passive or authoritarian style of leadership and to strike a fair balance between the interests of the company and the interests of staff.”

There is often distrust between workers and employers in garment factories. In assessments, Better Work has found incidences of verbal abuse, bullying, and even some sexual harassment, all of which reinforce the need to equip supervisors with the skills to manage effectively.

“Verbal abuse, in particular, appears when supervisors get under a lot of stress and don’t know well how to handle all the different expectations,” says Edher.

The training is held over three days. The first two days are consecutive and the third day usually takes place afterwards, so that supervisors can come back and share their experience in applying their new knowledge and skills in the workplace.

“On the third day, when supervisors come back and share their stories, the majority give details of how little changes in their behaviour, tone and approach can have a huge impact and help them motivate workers but also keep good relations with them,” Edher says.

There are about 1,000 supervisors in Haiti’s 26 garment factories. The early rounds of training have received good feedback from participants and factories, and so Better Work plans to continue to provide this training throughout 2015.

“We really appreciate this training as there don’t seem to be many opportunities for supervisors to learn,” says Lizette. ”The training has taught me a great deal, including things I can apply outside of work such as how to treat other people and how to communicate effectively within relationships and get things done in a respectful way.”

Better Work Haiti is funded by USDOL. The Supervisor Skills Training was funded with the support of The Walt Disney Company. Other major donors to the Better Work programme include the Australian Government, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland (SECO) and the Levi Strauss Foundation.

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