University of Wisconsin–Madison

Creating an Environment that Supports Mental Health

As managers and mentors in faculty and staff appointments, you are expected to create an environment that supports the mental health of your students and employees. You can do this by prioritizing mental health support in the workplace, considering language used around mental health, and practicing general good management practices.

Prioritizing Mental Health

This is about employees feeling it is ok to discuss mental health in the workplace, just as it is ok to talk about physical health. As a supervisor or manager, you should let your employees know the campus resources (EAO, DDRs) that are appropriate avenues for them to share mental health information. By prioritizing mental health in the workplace you will support stigma reduction. This reduction could make people more receptive to reaching out for help when needed. This is also a step towards creating an inclusive environment.

Model Mental Health Care

  • Care for Yourself: by doing things to care for yourself, your employees will start to see that it is ok to do what needs to be done to care for oneself. Oftentimes, when leaders say well-being is important but don’t show they are caring for themselves, employees will take the visual cues (i.e. leader not caring for themselves or overworking) as what is actually expected. UW can help you care for yourself.
  • Communicate to Staff Your Own Self Care: sometimes what we do to care for ourselves isn’t always apparent to someone else. In these cases, you are encouraged to explicitly communicate this with employees. For example, if you block your lunch hour every day so you can walk, have down time, etc., just stating that you do this and why can go a long way in prioritizing care for self. Additionally, if you have used Employee Assistance, LifeMatters, or another resource, communicating that you have used the resources can help others feel comfortable using the resources. All of this should be done within appropriate limits and you should not share your personal medical or mental health information with your employees.

Encourage Others to Care for Mental Health

    • Share with staff available resources: regularly remind all staff that resources are available. Consider sending an email to the whole team once per year, directing them to the resources page.
    • Example email message (this is an example; make updates to it based on how you and your unit handle these requests):

Hello all. It is important to me that we all feel as if our mental health is supported at work. On that note, I want to remind you all of resources that are available on campus and in the community. I encourage you all to use Employee Assistance or LifeMatters (if a phone call) on work time. If you choose to use LifeMatters (in-person meeting) or a community resource, follow the same procedures for taking time off as if it were another appointment. Be sure to look through the resources (link) to see what is available to you.

  • Explicitly tell employees they can use resources on work time: When you share the resources with employees, also let them know that use of Employee Assistance or LifeMatters (if a phone call) is allowed on work time. Also, communicate with them how they need to track their time for use of other resources. It should follow the same guidelines you would use if it were any type of appointment. One other thing to mention to your employees is that they do not have to tell you where or why they have an appointment. This can help reduce unease employees may have about use of the resources.
  • If you are concerned about someone abusing their leave, consult with Workforce Relations in the Office of Human Resources.

General Management Practices

Many general management practices support mental health in the workplace, even though they don’t specifically discuss mental health. When you are doing these things well, you are supporting good mental health. When you aren’t doing these things well, it can cause poor mental health in employees and lead to some of the common workplace stressors previously mentioned.

  • Set appropriate work expectations based on university policy and direction from your school, college, or division.
  • Offer flexibility (work hours, location, way to do work, etc.) as the work and university policies allow.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities.
  • Address conflict early.
  • Understand and adjust to working with different communication styles.
  • Consider assessing your own management style and see how that matches with employee needs.
  • Think about the structures or systems that exist in your workplace and how they might lead to burnout and what can be done to lessen the impact.
  • Create workplace relationships:
    • Conduct regular 1-on-1 meetings
    • Get to know employees.
    • Support team building and helping employees get to know each other.
    • Promote healthy workplace social gatherings.
  • Treat employees fairly and equitably. Understand what each employee needs based on their own lived experiences and work with them to ensure that they have access and an opportunity to use the resources they need.
  • Check in regularly with your employees about how things are going and provide positive and constructive feedback. Don’t just assume that since you’ve done it once or that since things were good in the past, that it is still that way.

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