A Guide for Supervisors of Aboriginal Staff

The following information provides advice and support for supervisors of Aboriginal employees. If you have any questions or require further assistance please contact Deanne Hanchant-Nichols, Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development, on ext 22202.


In the process of selecting the most suitable Aboriginal employee, ensure that an Aboriginal person is on the panel who is of a different clan group from the candidate(s). Preferably the representative should be the Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development or nominee.

Ensure panel members have a clear understanding of the diversity of ways in which Aboriginal candidates may meet the selection criteria. Contact the Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development for advice.

For Aboriginal candidates, behavioural interviewing strategies may be especially appropriate for discerning the candidate's ability to perform the essential tasks required with the position. Contact Deanne Hanchant-Nichols, Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development for further clarification on how to include these techniques effectively.

When considering recruiting potential Aboriginal employees, ideally at least two Aboriginal people should be recruited into an area, however, if this is not possible ensure suitable support is organised promptly.

Cultural awareness

Cultural awareness workshops are offered on an as-needs basis. If you believe that your area would benefit from a training session outside of the sessions offered by People, Talent and Culture please contact Deanne Hanchant-Nichols, Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development. All staff working with Aboriginal employees are strongly encouraged to attend at least one session per year.

Aboriginal Staff Network

All Aboriginal employees are able to join the Aboriginal Staff Network. Supervisors are encouraged to support their employee's attendance at these forums.

This group meets at least quarterly and the aim is to provide an opportunity for employees to talk about their backgrounds, aspirations, the type of work they do and where they work. They will also occasionally discuss problems and work together in identifying strategies to overcome difficulties.

Professional development

UniSA provides a range of opportunities for ongoing learning and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff may also be eligible for corporate funding toward professional development. To find out more see the Guidelines for the Professional Development of New Aboriginal Staff Initiative (PDF 116Kb) or speak with Deanne Hanchant-Nichols, Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development.

The initiative includes links to the AEAP-01 and AEAP-02 forms:

Supervision/management style

Supervisors should aim to develop good communication systems with the Aboriginal employee. The onus is on the supervisor to initially start discussion with the employee until they have built up confidence and knowledge of the workplace and are able to take initiative.

Discussions should be held on:

  • Quality of work – general comment on the quality of the employee's performance on tasks undertaken.
  • Application – comment on interest in work, concentration, thoroughness, readiness to learn, rate of working, ability to meet deadlines.
  • Personal effectiveness – comment on such things as communication skills, ability to work independently and as part of a team, act responsibly, take initiative, analyse situations, notice problems and propose solutions.
  • Understanding of work environment – comment on employee understanding of the organisation and of work requirements including attendance and punctuality.

The supervisor should discuss with the Aboriginal employee an agreed format for providing feedback and how records of discussions and agreed actions are maintained. Some supervisors agree to meet formally on a monthly basis with their employee unless both parties agree that the meeting is not necessary. The aim of formalising feedback sessions is to ensure both parties have a reference point to discuss issues.

It is important to use effective communication techniques during discussions such as close attention, questioning, prompting, etc. It is good practice for supervisors to provide constant feedback through careful monitoring of the Aboriginal employee's workload and performance.

If there are performance problems during probation, mentors and staff with expertise in Aboriginal issues should be consulted and involved early in the process of counselling and performance standard setting.

Supervisors should also be aware of staff criticising cultural practices or characteristics e.g. extended family obligations, communications styles, humour, etc. Any criticism should be handled in a constructive manner and have a legitimate basis.

Time off work

Supervisors are encouraged to take a flexible approach to concepts of family consistent with cultural values. The concept of 'extended family in Aboriginal culture can include, but is not limited to, the spouse, parent, parent of a spouse, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, guardian, foster parent, step-parent, step-brother, step-sister, half-brother, half-sister, child, foster child, or step-child.

Aboriginal employees may also have days off to attend to family obligations that are often culturally based, for example, attendance at funerals. However, the supervisor should establish with their Aboriginal employee the nature of the absence particularly if the employee is developing a pattern of absence from work or coming in late to work. Any emergency problems should be addressed immediately with the help of Deanne Hanchant-Nichols, Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development.

Cultural leave procedure


We will endeavour to provide new continuing and fixed term Aboriginal employees with a mentor to provide assistance and support in their first year of employment. The mentor will be available to meet with the employee at mutually agreeable times and locations with the supervisor's approval. The frequency of their meetings is determined by the needs of the employee. It is useful to encourage employees to keep in touch with their mentor, as they can often be a good source of help in some discussions, e.g. attendance, performance management etc.