Good Works, Better Practices, Great Homes
An interactive guide to operating AIDS housing

Section III: PERSONNEL

Maintaining staff longevity and building staff expertise are essential to creating an environment which is safe, stable, and enriching to residents. When developing policies designed to achieve these goals, it is helpful to consider the following areas:

  • Recruiting staff: Recruitment is an ongoing responsibility which can be assigned to one staff member and should not be viewed as a task performed only on an as needed basis. You can ensure the greatest pool of applicants by maintaining contact with a wide variety of sources. Your sources should be selected with the goal of ensuring diversity including individuals with HIV and individuals in recovery.
  • Orienting staff: Orientation is a critical period for ensuring staff comfort and competence on the job. Because of the often hectic pace of work in the supported housing field, especially at the direct service level, there may be a great deal of pressure for new staff to assume full responsibilities immediately. However, there should be some initial period when the staff person can apprentice with a "mentor" or senior staff member. This helps create a sense of teamwork as well as build relationships in which more experienced staff act as an ongoing resource for newer staff members. New staff should also be given instruction in areas such as confidentiality, OSHA, emergency procedures, organizational structure, policies and procedures, and performance review routines.  Staff should also receive specific training in how to document services as well as how to deliver services.  In addition, they should be given training and orientation on cultural competence.
  • Training staff: While experienced staff can provide valuable on-the-job training, all staff should also be given the opportunity to enhance their expertise through formalized trainings in relevant areas. These trainings can provide substantive knowledge as well as opportunities to network with other service providers. Areas of training can include: first aid and CPR; HIV/AIDS treatment updates; AIDS dementia; universal precautions; substance abuse; personal care for the bed-bound; counseling skills; conflict resolution; working with the chronically mentally ill; financial entitlements; cultural issues; and case management skills such as using objective, non-judgmental language, discerning between observations and opinions, and relevance in note-taking. 
  • Ongoing support and supervision of staff: Staff burnout can be very high in a field that requires a great deal of emotional energy. Therefore, time spent in support and supervision should be built into job descriptions just as any other essential task. In addition, individual staff isolation can be minimized by team work and shift overlap. Employee involvement in program design and decision-making can increase staff sense of ownership of and value to the program and thereby promote longevity. Some ways that staff can be supported in this work include: having a mental health clinician available to consult regarding residents with mental health issues; regular staff meetings; periodic staff retreats, particularly for long-term staff; weekly or biweekly direct individual supervision including problem solving of resident related issues, feedback on performance, staff feedback on job satisfaction, and assessment of need for emotional support.
  • Boundaries: In every social services job, the issue of boundaries between the client and the service provider is raised. Some organizations deal with these issues by creating rules against lending money to clients, sharing personal information with clients, or meeting clients outside of work, and all these can be useful practices. However, it is important to remember that the primary issue of boundaries is to ensure two things: first, that staff do not push themselves beyond their own reasonable limits in serving clients and, second, to ensure that staff are not relying on their relationships with clients to meet their own emotional needs. To this end, the following factors may be helpful to keep in mind: a) remind staff that each resident is in control of his or her own life; b) staff should be aware of their own emotional needs and ensure that those needs are met outside of their work relationships with residents; c) disciplinary proceedings and other limits on residents can be developed through a team approach so that no one staff person is responsible for an individual resident's success or failure.

In addition to the policies listed, the employee manual should also cover: personnel record keeping, an organizational chart, position classification (including job descriptions noting title, responsibilities, experience and educational requirements); benefits (holidays, insurance, vacation, leaves of absence, worker's compensation, overtime); performance review, time and attendance reporting; terms and conditions of employment including hours; confidentiality of personnel records; reference to code of ethics and conflict of interest policies; compliance with federal and state statutes relating to equal employment opportunities, affirmative action, etc; plan to comply with the ADA; reimbursement of employee expenses; and termination and demotion.

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