The Role of the Manager/Supervisor in Well-being

image of a woman clapping and smilingA manager/supervisor has a unique positon to utilize policies, programs, resources and best practices to establish positive behavior and culture.

Managers and supervisors have the flexibility to find and utilize vast available resources, coupled with their own discretion and management style, to create an environment with systems supporting employee well-being. 

Components of reaching that goal include:

  1. Awareness: Where to Find Policies and Programs
  2. Communication: Transparent and Proactive
  3. Organizational Support: Creating and Influencing an Environment of Well-being
  4. Culture: Creating and Influencing Employee Engagement
  5. Motivation and Encouragement: Finding Meaning and Expressing Appreciation
  6. Lead by Example: Self-care and Resulting Modeling
  7. Integrate into Work/Engage Employees
  8. Using Specific Tools: UC Davis Options

A manager/supervisor is primarily responsible for the extent to which any employee on their team either engages or does not engage with well-being offerings. Every manager/supervisor has the opportunity to either act as a cultivator or as a gatekeeper.


For such a large organization, resources are spread through several units across both campuses and can be difficult to find.  Below please find well-being services for staff:

Manager Specific Resources:


A manager/supervisor is the link between management and the workforce. What is communicated can establish culture. Choosing to communicate policy and programming concerning well-being automatically encourages a culture of well-being. Communicating the programs, policies, events, services, resources both on and off-campus is the role of the “multiplier” supervisor. Identify the best form of communication for your staff:

  • Posters and Infographics for physical workspaces (breakrooms, restrooms and printers are a great location).
  • Specific or forwarded email communications (at UC Davis, get on lists and forward the quarterly newsletters: eg: WorkLife, SFHWB etc.)
  • Regular meetings: Schedule a well-being topic into staff meetings.  For example, during Plan your Vacation month (observed in January) sit down with a calendar and the whole team to encourage taking their earned vacation and make a staffing plan for the year to accommodate unit or department needs. Alternatively, ask WorkLife  to present at your next staff meeting.
  • Personal check-ins with your staff:  This allows you to determine if they have any specific concerns for which you can provide resources. Brush-up on listening skills.

Organizational Support: Creating and Influencing an Environment of Well-being:

What is organizational support? It’s the resources and nudges an organization intentionally provides employees to encourage improvement. It comes in many forms:

Local Support:

  • Manager Support: an employee’s direct supervisor who can be the biggest obstacle or influence (multiplier/cultivator or gatekeeper)
  • Team/Peer Support: the people an employee directly works with every day
  • Social networks: formal and informal networks that provide support for well-being
  • Physical Work Environment: the characteristics that make up an employee’s physical space

Organization-wide Support:

  • Strategic alignment: direct connect between business strategy, people strategy and well-being initiatives. This can easily be tied to providing “meaning” in work for employees
  • Leadership support: primary messengers of business strategy and the importance of employee well-being
  • Well-Being tools and programs: an organization’s well-being activities, tools, policies, guidelines, campaigns, platforms and programs
  • Culture: the underlying norms, values and beliefs of an organization that drive employee behavior

The data shows that employees are more likely to feel higher levels of well-being when they feel higher levels of organizational support. 72% of employees with high well-being say they also have high organizational support. The opposite is true, too — employees are more likely to feel lower levels of well-being when they perceive lower organizational support.

“The solution to burnout is not about going to the individual, it’s about going to the job, the team, the leadership, the first-line managers… more WE solutions, not ME solutions.”  The Burnout Solution

Many companies and organizations institute wellness programs that focus on encouraging employees to eat better or exercise more. Meanwhile, they overlook the atmosphere of the workplace setting itself. We need to get serious about creating a workplace where people feel valued, trusted, and respected, where they are engaged in their work, have a degree of autonomy, and can get home in time for family dinner. 

Culture Change: Creating and Influencing Employee Engagement & Preventing Burnout

“Culture is the collective values, norms and beliefs of the organization — also known as “how things are done around here.” It’s the backdrop for everything that happens at your company and the day-to-day experience.  Organization and Unit culture should be aligned with business strategy.

A culture’s characteristics are not overt or concrete, but they’re nonetheless powerful because they shape employee behavior — telling people what to pay attention to, what things mean, how to react emotionally and how to behave. Culture is ubiquitous throughout the organization, even though it may present itself differently from one department to the next. Whether a culture is “good” or “bad” is relative, depending on the behavior and results it drives. Ideally, the culture should foster an environment that produces or enhances employee engagement. 

Cultural Attributes to Examine:

  • top-down decision making vs participative decision making
  • rigid vs relaxed
  • cold vs caring
  • disjointed vs integrated
  • quantity focused vs quality focused
  • hierarchical vs flat
  • micromanaged vs autonomous
  • reactive vs proactive
  • secretive vs honest/transparent
  • relationship-saving vs truth-telling
  • indifferent vs curious
  • silence vs recognition

Burnout is primarily an organizational issue. It's chronic job stressors that have not been successfully managed. It is harder for people to cope with chronic stressors, rather than occasional ones, so these stressors have an eroding, debilitating effect on everybody. Eventually there will be performance problems, health problems, and turnover problems.

Motivation and Encouragement

Understanding Employee Motivation:

What makes people tick? What makes them do their best on the job, feel pride in their accomplishments, work well with other colleagues, enjoy coming to work?

Research had identified 7 human motives that provide the foundation for a work environment of success, productivity and growth.

  • Autonomy: feeling ownership of one’s own behavior and being able to act with choice and control.
  • Belongingness: the basic human desire to achieve close relationships with other people and a connection with them.
  • Competence: the desire to feel capable of meeting challenges, learning things, and achieving good outcomes.
  • Psychological Safety: one’s desire to be free of anxieties in contexts that pose social risks, such as being bullied, humiliated, or marginalized.
  • Fairness: one’s desire to be treated with respect and to know that external decisions affecting their life are unbiased and nondiscriminatory.
  • Meaning: one’s desire to do things of value, which give purpose to one’s life.
  • Positive Emotions: a range of pleasant feelings one wants to experience in life, including joy, hope, humor, and optimism.

What Great Leaders Do to Motivate:

  1. Schedule one-on-one time:  Leaders thrive when they strengthen relationships with their people by spending more one-on-one time with them to hear suggestions, ideas and challenges.
  2. Find out what motivates individuals on your team:  Show an interest in people's jobs and career aspirations...get to know what drives them, varying factors can include curiosity, mastery, honor, status, achievement, competence.
  3. Provide resources and tools for success:  It's a simple question, but you'd be surprised how often it is not asked: What do you need right now to do your job better? Acting on what you find out will be a huge motivational booster. 
  4. Praise, compliment and recognize them often: Make the effort to find out how each individual likes to be recognized...public vs private, monetary vs written thank you cards?  Sometimes people mean simply asking their opinion, inviting them to relevant meetings, or "seeing" them and their contribution, when they ask for more "recognition." 
  5. Help co-create purposeful work: Have employees meet the very people they are helping and serving, even if just for a few minutes.
  6. Encourage professional development: Give people meaningful new skills, training or knowledge that they can use to leverage their natural strengths.  Avoid rewarding stellar work with just more of the same workload.
  7. Recognize employees by involving them: Encouraging decisions, information, and delegation to travel from peer to peer or from the bottom up, where the collective wisdom and involvement of the whole team help solve real issues in real time on the frontlines, while providing the "recognition" of skillset people really want.
  8. Believe in your people:  Managers often underestimate the potential and ability of their employees...that they, themselves hired! If you trust they can do what you hired them to do, give them the space to perform, and support them with whatever they need to do even better.

Lead by Example: Self-Care and Resulting Modeling

Managers and supervisors are in a unique position to help shape the work culture and inspire a commitment to health and well-being by empowering the people you work with to learn more about their health and well-being and provide them the autonomy to find a way to make it work for themselves. By participating in well-being promoting activities and encouraging your co-workers to take small steps towards a healthier lifestyle, you can make a difference.

First, being in the manager/supervisor role, you have particular well-being challenges that must be addressed at the self-care level. Modeling behaviors for the sake of “being a good role-model” is not effective. Make a conscious decision to enhance your personal well-being and the subsequent actions and results will indeed be that authentic “role-model” you strive to be.

Second, model behavior that encourages healthy work-life and wellness practices. This makes it easier to incorporate well-being practices into your management style for your unit. Specifically, establish the following well-being practices and follow them yourself!

Encourage and Model:

  • use of earned vacation and set-up team systems to facilitate optimizing time off
  • use of sick-time when sick, give yourself a break when your body asks for rest
  • use of lunch and break times to re-charge
  • walking outside to re-set one’s body and brain
  • walking meetings/use of the stairs instead of elevators
  • workplace flex to address incidental, short-term issues
  • strategic, longer-term adoption of flex time and/or flex place
  • team input, problem solving and collaboration
  • recognition for a job well-done
  • connection with others
  • kindness, inclusion, trust


  • use of email communication during non-work hours
  • “overwork” as a display of dedication to job
  • belief that busyness is a badge of honor
  • avoiding assistance or feedback
  • assessing performance on face-time rather than quality (and sufficient timeliness) of work

Integrate Into Work/Engage Your Employees

Once you have established some well-being practices in your modeling behavior, build upon these new baselines of well-being to enhance your team with specific tools and programming. The sections on Creating Worklife Integration and Creating A Healthy Work Environment provide specific tips. 

Overall, integration as a concept is best accomplished with the following tips:

  • Include a conversation about healthy lifestyles and the respect for work-life fit during a new employee’s first days of employment.
  • Explain campus well-being programming and how it can be accessed.
  • Announce your support for participating in well-being programming.
  • Align cultural touch points which are formal and informal policies and procedures such as rewards, communication and training with health and well-being.
  • Facilitate well-being program participation — along with teamwork, job autonomy, vacation time, appropriate use of sick leave, and access to work/life/health benefits — to help create an atmosphere where employees can thrive.
  • Visibly demonstrate and cultivate a workplace that values good health (i.e. exercise on lunch breaks, participate in wellness events, promote good nutrition, and keep team workloads and stress levels manageable).
  • Think creatively about flexible your team members some choice and control allows them the autonomy to find effective work-life strategies. Work-life harmony (often managed through flex time and place) is a key driver of retention.
  • Encourage staff to join email lists or social media of units/departments that house work-life and wellness offerings.
  • Recognize the efforts of teams and staff members.

Using Specific Tools: UC Davis Resources

Explore our campus resources (see Awareness above for unit links) to see how to integrate established well-being programming into your work environment.

Creating Work-Life Integration >