Supervisor Toolbox

We understand that faculty and staff are facing additional pressure and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a “toolbox” of resources aimed at helping supervisors support their teams during this difficult time. These resources are specifically for supervisors looking to support the mental health and physical wellness of their teams.

The Community Support & Impact Team is a multi-disciplinary team led by Dean of Students, Adam Jussel and includes members from HR, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. This team’s goal is to assess the needs of the campus community–students, faculty, and staff–and partner with departments and programs to employ both proactive and reactive interventions to meet community members’ needs.

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Five Supervisor Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Team

1. Communicate Openly and Honestly

While the COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented event in modern history, the experience of managing through it is not necessarily unique. Many supervisors have been in this position before, during 9/11 and the global financial crisis. People are scared, they are wondering, “What does this mean for my job and my future?” The role of a supervisor is to project confidence and strength.

Create a strategy for how and when you will communicate with your team as the situation evolves. Navigate your conversations with care. Consider your audience, be humble, don’t sugar coat, be responsible and try to remain consistent. Your teams are comprised of people in a variety of circumstances. Your employees may be homeschooling or caring for small children while maintaining their full workload. Ask your staff if there is a convenient time for regular staff meetings, during regular naptimes or when school-aged children are on Zoom “in class.”

You may also have team members who are single and living in complete isolation during this remote work period. It is important to take these factors into account when communicating with your employees. It might be easy to assume that these employees “have it easier” because they are not juggling work and children, this is not necessarily the case. These employees are also going to need special attention during this time of isolation and loneliness.

Encourage your teams to “manage up.” Many people think that managing up is only necessary in negotiating a raise or benefits. Now, more than ever, normalizing managing up is crucial. Your employees need the space to advocate for themselves and maintain a healthy relationship with their supervisor. Offer the space for your employees to present problems and solutions. As you pay attention to the mental health and wellness of your employees, let them look out for yours as well; we are truly in this situation together. There are several resources below to help staff manage up in a virtual world.


2. Manage Back-to-Back Meetings

“In the office, back-to-back meetings have natural pauses between them. There’s the walk down the hallway, those first few moments at the table when you wait for everyone to arrive, and the casual conversation that happens as teammates greet one another and quickly catch up. Often, we barely notice these little breathers as we move through our work week. Then we switch to remote work and realize just how much we needed them to punctuate the rat-a-tat pace of a multi-meeting day,” writes Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365 in his article 2 Weeks in: What We’ve Learned About Remote Work.

If you and your team are meeting regularly, consider scheduling meetings to end a few minutes before the end of the halfor full hour. This will go along way is mitigating burn out from back-to-back meetings.


3. Continue Creating Team Culture

A healthy team culture is more important than ever. It is easy to shift to an “essentials only” mode in this new work from home culture, postponing important events and celebrations until we are all back together.

Teams need these small celebrations and team building now more than ever! Celebrate that birthday, hold a weekly coffee hour or virtual “happy” hour. Keep building team culture even when you need to build it from afar. Your team also has ideas about how to connect, ask for their ideas. “The get-togethers that help drive culture may seem challenging to pull off remotely at first, but it’s worth the extra effort to keep everyone connected and moving forward,” notes Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365. Celebrating small wins has a powerful impact on employees’ well-being, motivation, and output.


4. Ask Meaningful Questions

It is easy to default to the usual “How are you doing right now?” question during these challenging times. This is a helpful question at first, it is an assumption-free signal of care. If we continue to ask this same question, we lose the opportunity to build a deeper connection.

Remember that some employees may need time to open-up about how they are dealing with working remotely and how they are dealing with their emotions and mental state. If they don’t answer you right away, try making small talk or coming back to it after other topics.

As we see an increase of furloughs over the coming months, more and more of your employees will experience very difficult and scary circumstances. Meaningful communication with both furloughed employees and the employees who are not furloughed will be extremely important. Employees who are not furloughed may take on additional guilt, stress and anxiety, as their workload increases and they see their colleagues (and in some cases, friends) placed on full or partial furloughs.


5. Create a Space for People to Disconnect

Even under normal circumstances disconnecting from work can be difficult. It is especially tough while we no longer have our normal after work routines. We are no longer leaving the office to meet friends for dinner or pick children up from childcare.

Since the onset of this pandemic, you and your team have likely been experiencing challenges with setting boundaries. It has become difficult to distinguish between weekend and weekday, days (and nights) all begin to merge together. As a supervisor, you might be sending and receiving more messages and emails “after hours” than you did in pre-COVID times. It is crucial to be rigorous about setting boundaries–this includes communicating to your team when and how you’ll be reachable.


Refer your team to the following UWM COVID-19 Pages:

UWM’s COVID-19 Information Campus Updates

Employee Assistance Program


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