Everyone has had a bad boss.  But what can you do about it?  How do you balance the needs of the employee vs. the agency?  And what are supervisors looking for in new hires?

Join our hosts, Juliet C. Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard, as they interview Susan Steed, a certified peer recovery supporter and program manager at The PEER Center

Susan tells us about her personal history of mental illness and trauma.  Listen in as she explains how she entered the field, and what it has been like to move up the ranks into a supervisory role.   We also explore how to improve your relationship with your boss and Susan shares what she looks for in a potential employee.

Show Notes: 

10:51 – “If you have some challenges, please talk to your supervisor. If you’re not getting through to them, speak to the person above them.”  (Don’t allow problems in the workplace to go unsolved.  Advocate for yourself and find solutions.)

12:42 – “If we’re being good supervisors, we want to take care of our people, and we want our people to be successful. And that’s a partnership relationship.”  (You and your employer are on the same side, working together for a common goal.)

14:08 – “If you don’t know how to do it, don’t assume that everything is just magical and that’s going to fit into place.” (Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  We are all peers.)

17:07 – “I look for someone with compassion. I think someone with compassion will have a lot to give.”  (Successful peer recovery supporters are understanding and empathetic.)

17:27 – “ . . . having lived experience and also having the ability to articulate that.”  (Just because you are in recovery, doesn’t mean you would be a good peer recovery supporter.)

18:07 – “I want someone that has been in recovery for a while, maybe a couple of years. Because I want someone that is ready.” (It takes time and experience with your own recovery to help others.)

Transcript of  “Are You a New Boss?: How to successfully manage peer recovery supporters.

Editor’s Note:  This transcript is computer generated and therefore may not be an exact match to the recording.

Announcer: [00:00:07] You’re listening to the PEER Voices podcast. This show is for peers, by peers, and focuses on information that’s important to our community. Here are your hosts, Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard.

Gabe: [00:00:25] Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of PEER Voices. My name is Gabe Howard and I am here with?

Juliet: [00:00:31] Juliet Doris-Williams. Hello everybody.

Gabe: [00:00:34] This episode features a super special guest. Susan Steed is here. Susan is a certified peer recovery supporter and she works here for The PEER Center in a supervisory role. Susan, welcome to the show.

Susan: [00:00:46] Thank you, Gabe.

Gabe: [00:00:47] The first question we were going to ask you right out of the gate, is how did you get involved in this work? What made you decide that you wanted to be a peer supporter and be certified?

Susan: [00:00:57] Actually, I was taken in to a building and I thought, “Oh, okay I’ll check it out.” It was a receptionist job and I was just going to work, because I was on Social Security, so I was going to work, like, eight to ten hours a week on the desk. And I started out doing that for a company, Partners in Active Living through Socialization. So then I just kept going, and taking different positions.

Juliet: [00:01:23] And Partners in Active Living was another consumer operated service center here in Franklin County, right?

Susan: [00:01:30] Yes.

Gabe: [00:01:30] And they merged with The PEER Center a while ago?

Juliet: [00:01:33] Yes, in 2011.

Gabe: [00:01:35] 2011? So you’ve been with The PEER Center for, obviously, about eight years.

Susan: [00:01:40] Yes.

Gabe: [00:01:40] And it all started out with a part time job as a receptionist at another consumer operated service? And you’ve grown into this role?

Susan: [00:01:49] Yes. Been here a long time.

Gabe: [00:01:52] And we know that you live with a diagnosis. You have lived experience, you are somebody that has mental health issues. Could you care to talk about that a little bit?

Susan: [00:01:58] Yes. I grew up in a very anxious household. So I have anxiety and depression. Of course when I was younger, I didn’t know I had anxiety and depression. I just knew I felt anxious. I grew up with other siblings, and we had a lot of a lot of yelling. And, you know, my mom and dad both came from abusive backgrounds and they were untreated mental health. They – well the stigma back in the day. You know, it is still here. I shouldn’t say just “back in the day” was people just didn’t get cared for with their mental health. So we had it buried. My dad was always yelling. I would go hide. I wanted to go play with my dolls or something, to get out of the room where he was because he would be yelling at us constantly. And so, I grew to accept being anxious. And then that led to depression and then life sometimes just deals that to you. You have things like, you know, people you’ve lost. I’ve lost siblings and I lost my son in 2009. I lost my sister in 2016, and my dad in 2014. And I’m in recovery from cancer. And I had a stroke.

Juliet: [00:03:11] So you’ve got significant, significant trauma experiences? Multiple trauma, layered trauma experiences?

Susan: [00:03:19] Yes.

Juliet: [00:03:20] And with respect to that that trauma, how has that impacted your life in particular and your recovery specifically?

Susan: [00:03:29] It makes you look and act differently. I think when you have a lot of anxiety, especially compounded with trauma, it’s harder to do things. I try to find ways to do things to make me feel better. Because when you have trauma, you have to find ways to remember to do things good, you know? To take care of yourself, to do your self-care. I reacted angrily a lot. You know, it was just my way of dealing with things when I felt overwhelmed. What I would feel is angry and I reacted angrily.

Gabe: [00:04:03] How were you able to move past that?

Susan: [00:04:05] Well, I think that I do things to make myself feel better. Like things I enjoy. I like to go camping. I like to ride bikes. I like to watch movies. I like to. . .  I like my pajamas.

Juliet: [00:04:19] [Laughter] I love my pajamas!

Susan: [00:04:21] Yes. And that’s what I’m like. I’m leaving, I’m going home. See you guys tomorrow. And I have my pajamas on immediately. And you know, you’ve got to find all the little things. But most of all, I love seeing Maddie, my granddaughter. She’s very special. She’s my one and only; she’s our unicorn. So I really enjoy Maddie. So I buy her a lot.

Juliet: [00:04:45] So tell us what you do here at The PEER Center?

Susan: [00:04:48] I’m the program director and I am a Peer Support Specialist.  I supervise other peers. I schedule people to do training in the training room. I create the calendar for The PEER Center at the West Center. I invite people to come and get involved and use our services.

Juliet: [00:05:09] You supervise the warm line.

Susan: [00:05:10] Mm hmm.

Gabe: [00:05:10] And what’s the warm line?

Susan: [00:05:13] The warm line is an after hours, non-crisis, peer run, phone line people can call in to from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Gabe: [00:05:23] Very cool.

Juliet: [00:05:24] Everyday.

Susan: [00:05:24] Yeah, every day.

Gabe: [00:05:26] Even Christmas?

Susan: [00:05:27] Yeah, every single day. We have regulars.

Gabe: [00:05:31] I think that longtime listeners of the show know that The PEER Center is a peer run organization, but we’re also open. We’re always open. I mean we’re not open 24 hours a day, but we’re open every day. When I say, “We’re open every single day of the year,” people always say, “Even Christmas?” And I’m like, it is a day of the year.

Susan: [00:05:46] Right.

Gabe: [00:05:47] But this also means that people like you, you’re working on Christmas Day. You’re working on Thanksgiving Day, you’re working on New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve and you’re managing staff who are working on those days as well. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I know everybody understands the “you’ve got to work on Tuesday.” But it’s different when you go to work on these holidays or when you work late at night, like at 2:00 a.m.

Susan: [00:06:12] Well, we are open every single day of the year. So people come in, every single day of the year. So it’s a –

Juliet: [00:06:21] People call in every single day.

Susan: [00:06:23] Yeah, that’s true, they call.

Juliet: [00:06:24] Yeah.

Susan: [00:06:24] So it’s important for us to be open. In the wintertime, we’re open. I mean people, are coming in every day. They need us.

Juliet: [00:06:32] People need support. They need support and friendship and places to be, everyday.

Susan: [00:06:39] Yes.

Juliet: [00:06:39] All the time.

Susan: [00:06:42] Yes.

Juliet: [00:06:42] And not just Monday through Friday from 9-5.

Susan: [00:06:44] Yes, that’s right. I actually got to take off this Christmas this year, but everybody I supervised didn’t! [Laughter] We just have to have that for the people we serve.

Gabe: [00:06:57] As a supervisor, the challenge is, like you said there, you were off on Christmas, but everybody you supervise was working. What’s that like for them? I mean I know they do a great job, and they work really well. But you know, I got to imagine that when it’s time to pass out the schedule and see who’s going to work Christmas Day, you know some folks are like, “Oh man, do I have to?” It’s like working black Friday in retail. Nobody’s looking forward to that. But it has to be done. What are some of those, like challenges, and maneuvers and things like that to make sure that we can be fully staffed 365 days a year?

Susan: [00:07:26] People can trade shifts. However, you know, we go off of whoever scheduled during that time. Now like the warm line staff, they’ll trade days. One will work Christmas, the other one will work Thanksgiving. If they did it last year, they’ll trade off. So, it’s really just like peer support. We are teaching them to be compassionate, and, you know, and to share the schedule. We’re all very supportive of each other.

Juliet: [00:07:54] Time and a half helps.

Susan: [00:07:56] Yes, can’t argue about that. We don’t really have too many complaints.

Juliet: [00:08:00] We do not have complaints. That’s premium work time, because, you know, we pay time and a half. So it is the same way for the leadership. I think I was the one, I was the lucky one, that came in for Christmas this year. Last year it was my turn to do Thanksgiving. So we sort of trade off for leadership. All leadership doesn’t show up on those days. We decide, “OK, whose day is it?” Because we need a break too.

Susan: [00:08:28] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:08:28] Self-care.

Susan: [00:08:29] True.

Juliet: [00:08:31] So, you are the scheduling queen for our newly dubbed Aiden McMahon Training Center. How has that been?

Susan: [00:08:41] It has been great. We had some peer recovery supporter training on, and I don’t I want to say certified because they’re not certified.

Juliet: [00:08:51] Right, right

Susan: [00:08:51] We had them come in last week, and it was really super fun. I mean, it was great to see people utilizing our new space. It’s just excellent. I just think everybody should come there because you’ve got a table to set at and –

Juliet: [00:09:03] Right.

Susan: [00:09:03] It’s really, it’s so comfortable. We’ve got a kitchen and everything’s all on one floor.

Juliet: [00:09:08] Accessible.

Susan: [00:09:09] Right. It’s really nice.

Juliet: [00:09:09] Adequate parking and it’s great.

Susan: [00:09:11] Yes, and parking and everything. Everything involving it, from the number of restrooms, we have a nice kitchen, everything is just great about it.

Gabe: [00:09:20] The Aiden McMahon Training Room was donated. It was brought from a tragedy comes triumph situation. Aiden McMahon was a young man who overdosed on opioids, and his family wanted to do something. They wanted to provide a way to give back to the community, and they sponsored the room.

Juliet: [00:09:37] Yes, they did.

Gabe: [00:09:38] And because of them, we’re able to do, you know, symposiums and trainings. And have people in, and we even hosted the governor there. So this was –

Juliet: [00:09:45] Yes, we did that, we did.

Gabe: [00:09:47] This room has had a major impact on our community. In an area where there’s just not a lot.

Juliet: [00:09:53] Yes.

Susan: [00:09:54] Yes, that’s exactly right. And you know, it’s a very comfortable setting. We can just about support anything. We have a projector people can use to show slide shows on. It’s really, really just an outstanding space.

Gabe: [00:10:08] Many of us listening to this show understand what it means to be a peer supporter because, you know, much of our audience is made up of people who are peer supporters themselves or who have utilized peer services. But specifically for you, you’re leveling up, because you’re supervising peer supporters. And I know that at our symposiums, we get a lot of questions about things like, “Hey, I don’t like my supervisor.” Or, “My supervisor doesn’t understand.” And it’s always interesting for me, because I too have supervised peer supporters, and Juliet has supervised peer supporters, and you have supervised peer supporters. What advice do you have for peer recovery supporters and certified peer recovery supporters who are maybe having issues or challenges with their supervisor?

Susan: [00:10:51] Well, I think to just be open and honest. Don’t hold back. If you have some challenges, please talk to your supervisor. If you’re not getting through to them, speak to the person above them. You don’t want to just leave things lingering and with the hostility being kept up, you know? Don’t isolate. Talk about it and let them know what you’re going through. It is peer support, after all.

Juliet: [00:11:18] Thank you for saying that, Susan. Because people have a tendency, well, some people have a tendency to let things fester. And the longer it festers, the worse it becomes. And it’s scary, I guess, to just speak up and, you know, knock on the door. Or come in  – the door is, I have an open door policy, just come in if the door is open. Come in. I don’t know why I have to keep saying that.

Gabe: [00:11:42] [Laughter]

Juliet: [00:11:42] The door is open. Come in if it’s open. If it’s not open, knock. So come and address it, because sometime the supervisor doesn’t know.

Susan: [00:11:53] Right.

Juliet: [00:11:55] That this issue is happening.

Susan: [00:11:57] Right.

Juliet: [00:11:57] Give the supervisor an opportunity to do their job.

Susan: [00:12:00] Right.

Juliet: [00:12:00] And their job is to make it easy for you to do your job.

Susan: [00:12:04] Right. Exactly. And you know, I was experiencing some burnout myself because I had so many hats and I just felt overwhelmed. So I, you know, and then we started talking about, me and Juliet. And we had to work through that. So I had to do it. I had to let go with some things to see the big picture. Because sometimes you can be overwhelmed, you know, and not realize it.

Juliet: [00:12:31] You know, and supervisors, if they’re good supervisors, and not to say we . . . Well, I mean every supervisor is not a good supervisor. That’s just the truth.

Gabe: [00:12:39] They’re all good at The PEER Center, though.

Juliet: [00:12:42] I need to find some wood to knock on. If we’re being good supervisors, we want to take care of our people, and we want to we want our people to be successful. And that’s a partnership relationship. Because I need to know what you need in order to be successful.

Susan: [00:13:03] That’s correct.

Juliet: [00:13:03] And we need to figure out how that, how to marry those things. What the job expectations are, what your needs are with respect to the job. If you applied for the job, we know you want the job. So how do we marry your expectations with what the agency needs so that everybody wins? Looking for the win win always.

Susan: [00:13:26] Right. I think that people, it’s really a laid back type of atmosphere. You can come to work in jeans. You know it’s not like we are expecting people to be something they’re not.

Juliet: [00:13:38] That’s right.  Show up for real.

Susan: [00:13:41] Yeah. And just, you know, we want you to come in and do the best you can with the people we serve. Now, we want to make it the best day possible, because we know people are experiencing a lot of different things. They come from all walks of life and come in to The PEER Center for the day. So we want to be, we want to be as nice to everybody as we can.

Gabe: [00:14:04] Along the same lines, what advice do you have for newly minted supervisors?

Susan: [00:14:08] It can really wear you down real quick. I think you should say, “Well I don’t know how to do that.” If you don’t know how to do it, don’t assume that everything is just magical and that’s going to fit into place. I mean, ask for help. And you know, I think that the people who have been here for a while, will be glad to help you.

Juliet: [00:14:25] And that is the truth.

Susan: [00:14:27] Yes.

Gabe: [00:14:28] At The PEER Center we’re very fortunate. You know, The PEER Center has been around for 12 years. There are people before us and there’s going to be people after us. But many of our peer supporters are working at agencies that are just now starting to grasp peer support. So they might be the first peer supporter that this agency has ever hired, and they may be reporting to supervisors who don’t understand what peer support is. Do you have any sort of advice to explain to a supervisor, who maybe doesn’t understand the role of a supervisor, what their job is? So I’m kind of asking you to wear both your supervisor hat and your peer supporter hat and your advocacy hat to explain what you’re doing.

Susan: [00:15:06] I think that as a supervisor, I’m teaching them how to be a good peer support specialists or peer recovery supporters. But it’s that you are teaching them just to be a good person to the people that are coming in and that are going through, or might be going through, some hard times right now. And you’re asking them to invite them in to services. Invite them to come to the rooms, invite them to sit and talk to you about what they’ve gone through. You know, like, when I go and talk to people I’m the peer, you know? I’m not the supervisor then. I’m reaching out to folks from the community ,and I’m talking to them and I’m inviting them into our services and making them understand that they’re not alone. Because we all have lived experience with that. We’re what they are going through too, so they can understand that it’s important to talk about it and not to just isolate and keep it inside.

Gabe: [00:16:02] You’re a real big proponent of keeping that dialogue going?

Susan: [00:16:05] Yes.

Gabe: [00:16:05] It’s just not going to be resolved overnight?

Susan: [00:16:08] No.

Gabe: [00:16:08] But if we clam up and just assume that our supervisor dislikes us, or doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to help, that we’re going to make the problem worse not better?

Susan: [00:16:16] That’s right. And you know, we reach out to agencies and they come in and provide services as well. You know, they say, “Hey, I offer this service. I will be glad to help some of the people that you serve because we serve them as well.”

Juliet: [00:16:31] So, Susan, when you’re hiring a peer recovery supporter, or a peer support specialist, which is what we call them here, what do you look for?

Susan: [00:16:41] I look for someone with compassion. I think someone with compassion will have a lot to give. Also lived experience. I don’t want to, you know, I want people to have multiple, you know, I want to hire different people. Like for example, I want to hire someone that has addiction recovery, I want to hire somebody that has mental health recovery, and then they may have an addiction recovery too, or living with some kind of trauma.

Juliet: [00:17:07] Mm hmm.

Susan: [00:17:07] And I think that I want the person to talk about things that they went through to help other people that come in. So, I think that it’s important that we have people that are open and honest about their recovery. Who are ready to help other people because they are in recovery themselves.

Juliet: [00:17:27] So you want to hire people who they have their, obviously, lived experience? But having lived experience and also having the ability to articulate that?

Susan: [00:17:38] Yes.

Juliet: [00:17:38] And people who also have some history with dealing with their own recovery. And also being able to articulate that. You know? So they have some tools when they are here.  They have some recovery tools.

Susan: [00:17:52] Yes, perfect.

Juliet: [00:17:52] Yes. Yes.

Gabe: [00:17:54] I’m gonna play the devil’s advocate and say what do you absolutely not look for? What is something that is an immediate turnoff? Or something that you really suggest that they work on in order to be successful in this role?

Susan: [00:18:07] I want someone that has been in recovery for a while, maybe a couple of years. Because I want someone that is ready. I don’t want someone that is, you know, just thinking, “Oh, I just want a job.”

Juliet: [00:18:19] Right, exactly.

Susan: [00:18:19] You know, I want someone to be ready for the job. Because it is a responsibility. It’s a big responsibility to, you know, to be able to talk to other people about things you’ve went through yourself and to help them through it.

Gabe: [00:18:33] Susan, we’re glad you’re here at The PEER Center and we were glad to have you on PEER Voices. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Susan: [00:18:38] Thank you, Gabe.

Gabe: [00:18:40] All right, everybody, if you love PEER Voices, and why wouldn’t you? You’ve made it all the way to the end of the show. Please share us on social media. Tell all of your friends. Peers know peers. We don’t have a huge budget, so you’re gonna have to be our advertising. Spread this around by word of mouth so that other peers know. Remember you can find us on OhioPeers.org. Thank you everybody. We’ll see you next time on PEER Voices.

Announcer: [00:19:09] You’ve been listening to the PEER Voices podcast sponsored by The PEER Center with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. To learn more about this podcast, please visit, OhioPeers.org. To learn more about The PEER Center, please visit ThePEERCenter.org website. We encourage you to share this podcast with other peers in our community. Thank you for listening, and see you next time on PEER Voices.