Trauma Informed Supervision Toolkit

Campus leaders play a key role in creating and fostering a culture of care.  One way is through trauma-informed leadership and supervision.

Caring for your staff in an authentic and empathetic way will help staff thrive and excel, increase retention, and reduce burnout.  While trauma informed care is a good framework for approaching this, these tips are grounded in empathy, empowerment, safety, transparency, while recognizing your employee’s individual needs.

Below are several easy, simple tips you can incorporate into your supervision to positively influence your area’s culture.  If you have landed here and don’t know where to start, check out the questions for supervising with care during one-on-ones.

A trauma-informed lens can enhance our approach to supervision in several ways. Operating from a trauma-informed lens allows supervisors to have a more individualized and supportive relationship with their employees. This affords a greater ability to cultivate strengths and provide individualized responses when an employee may be struggling. Also, a component of trauma informed care is that organizations, like UWM, can create spaces for meaningful, albeit sometimes difficult, conversations, and to mitigate the impacts of personally experienced and vicarious trauma (Walsh, 2017).

A supervisor is not a counselor, and you will need to recognize the limits of your role, set up boundaries, gain education to more clearly understand others’ challenges, and making appropriate referrals and connections to resources.

For an easy starting point, use these questions as a place to start caring communications with your team.

First, before engaging in these, practice self-care. This might include engaging in any of the practices below for yourself, setting set times for reflection, self-care, or engagement with others, look to pathways for earned success, etc. You cannot care for others unless you care for yourself.

  1. Orient your area towards shared values
    • Develop shared values and purpose through conversations with staff. It helps everyone consider what role they play in that core purpose. Once shared values and purpose are established, remain committed to them, keep them in front of mind in conversations, communications, hiring, retention, promotion, etc.
    • Discuss these values during meetings, including one-on-ones.
      • Follow a distributed leadership approach that focuses more on shared goals than on rigid adherence to the organizational chart.
      • Break free from the default “the way we’ve always done….” mindset. If that is the rationale for the way something is done, probe more and ask why.
  1. Allow time for deep, meaningful work with others, even if it is outside of the unit or area
    • Provide for opportunities for staff to work on projects that are A. meaningful to them and/or the team; B. Shared and collaborative with others, including others outside the unit; and C. In furtherance of the larger goal (e.g., supporting students)
  1. Practice good communications
    • Communicate regularly to engender trust and transparency with staff.
    • Empathy is key. Starting with a people-first and care-first approach in all communications is helpful, even if the news itself is troubling.
    • In times of change, be clear about what is not changing, despite any volatility of current circumstances. Share accurate, timely, and transparent information. Communicate next steps in a process when waiting on answers.
    • Acknowledge staff and celebrate successes: Reinforce the behaviors and values that are considered vital to improving outcomes, including that successful crisis response relies on leadership and contributions from everyone in the organization.
    • Create feedback loop opportunities, formal and informal, whether in one-on-ones or in team meetings.
    • Empower employees and create safe spaces to bring up concerns or needs.
    • Seek to understand. Make sure to check-in with staff, faculty, and students without assumptions; this can go a long way to creating a supportive environment. Revisit how often a check-in would be appreciated. Practice offering grace and compassion to others and give yourself the same.
  1. Consider physical spaces
    • Involve employees in discussions about their workspaces. Engage in conversations about physical space and increasing personal comfort in offices as well as meeting spaces.
  1. Support mental health and wellbeing
    • Encourage self-care (physical, emotional and mental), and integrate it into your office or unit’s practices (e.g., set days/times dedicated to self-care). Other self-care strategies include having separate interests and passions from work, taking breaks, maintaining connections with people outside the field, humor, and being active in a socio-political movement (Morrison, 2007). Promote and model self-care for yourself.
    • Share or identify common language for “I’m not doing well.” Some staff use a % to identify where they are at and how they are feeling, or a “red, yellow, green,” – this enables folks to share where they are at without sharing details theey aren’t comfortable with, but builds avenues for understanding and support.
    • Use mindfulness and breathing as appropriate.
    • Ensure that employees know what resources are available.
    • UWM has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for additional mental health support.  The EAP website provides tools and information to address life’s everyday concerns. Kepro is anonymous, confidential, and secure. You will find research articles, self-paced training, monthly webinars, legal and financial resources, and much more.
  1. Build Community
    • Social support is paramount in persevering through traumatic events. Building a community in the workplace, no matter the size of your team, is incredibly important, and should be genuine and align with departmental values and mission.
    • Some suggestions: Meeting for lunch with a colleague, taking a short walk to grab coffee with someone in your workspace, joining a committee that works on items that you are passionate about, join a class after work, such as a cooking or exercise class.
  1. Offer flexibility
    • Offer flexibility when you can, with consideration that this will differ per position description. Flexible schedules or alterations to identified work expectations may be helpful here.
    • Allow employees to step away from workspace to regroup or clear their minds. A workday walk or lunch away from the office are ways to flex the workday that should beencouraged when possible.
    • Organizationally, you can provide staff with balanced workloads/work types, debrief with staff (if they want to) after difficult conversations, and create a supportive culture that acknowledges and normalizes feelings, and emotions.

Adapted in part from Guidance for Health Care Leaders during Recovery Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic – Recovery Stage by Gerts, et. Al. and from research and writing done by Campus Cares.