Building a Supportive Work Environment

Why is building a supportive work environment important?

Several workplace studies have demonstrated that staff with higher job satisfaction are more productive. Furthermore, a University of Calgary/University of Pennsylvania study surveyed 2,500 social workers,  and determined that the elements experienced by individuals who stated they had a high level of  job satisfaction included:

  1. Feeling appreciated & valued
  2. Feeling engaged in work
  3. A flexible schedule
  4. Autonomy
  5. Good colleagues

Beyond the goal of increasing productivity, the OCPD is committed to modeling what it means to commit to building a high functioning, supportive work environment to the students and postdocs we serve and the UCSF community. The OCPD staff counsel trainees that they deserve to work in healthy environments, encourage them to seek out those environments when seeking further training or employment, and as future leaders, insist that they take an active role in fostering healthy environments. We do not believe that we can authentically take that position, unless we ourselves are willing to do the work to actively create a high functioning, supportive environment ourselves.

What are examples of the OCPD actively incorporating these elements into the Office's structure?
As a result, the OCPD began an intentional strategy of building these aspects into the structure and culture of the office. Three questions were asked: 1) What specific actions or experiences would result in the staff feeling that these characteristics were present in their day-to-day work life,  2) Are staff "work ready", or is something affecting their ability to function well, and 3) What steps could the office take to continuously minimize the possibility of staff burnout? Over the past three years the OCPD has initiated a number of efforts designed to promote these five factors into the culture and fabric of how staff works individually and as a team. 

For example, under the characteristic "Autonomy":

  • Clearly defined job descriptions: 
    Job descriptions were rewritten to give each Program Director the authority to develop the short and long term strategic plan for their population. 
  • Commonly understood benchmarks on performance expectations: 
    Together, each Program Director and the OCPD Director review the Program Director's job description and an annual UCSF performance evaluation side-by-side. The goal of the conversation is to come to a general understanding about each area of responsibility in the job description, and discuss the criteria and benchmark examples for each performance evaluation rating (Consistently Exceeds, Meets and Exceeds, Meets All, Partially Meets and Fails to Meet) for each responsibility area. This clarifying conversation gives every staff person the information necessary to understand what is expected from them, which serves as insight as they work on 'how' to meet that expectation. 
  • Support for each Program Director's strategic plan: 
    Having each Program Director solely responsible for the planning and implementation for the entire strategic plan for their population could quickly lead to burnout. Instead, the Program Director role  has been re-conceived as the Team Lead or “Alpha” for their population, with the entire OCPD staff supporting them in the implementation of their goals.  As Team Lead, each year Program Directors are responsible for developing that part of OCPD’s overall annual strategic plan. At the week long retreat they share and coordinate their plan with fellow Program Directors, and throughout the year, the lead the team implementing that plan. We call this plan 'independent strategy; collective implementation'.
  • Operations/Implementation assistance: 
    The OCPD utilizes an event planner to work with each of the Program Directors. In reviewing staff productivity, it was noted that it took significant time for each Program Director manage both the content of a workshop and to schedule/cancel rooms, create online registrations, order catering, pay honorariums, and set up the room on the day of the event. In this model, the Program Director is responsible for the content, and works with the Event Planner, who manages several aspects of the logistics. Fellow staff serve as support to both roles. 
  • Independence and space: 
    The majority of the staff work one day a week from home, to 1) free up limited office space, 2) have protected time to complete projects that require attention, 3) to learn how to work independently, and  4) and to learn how to work together as a team when staff are not in each others' presence (specifically, building trust, figuring out communication protocols, using UCSF team technology such as Jabber, Webex and Box, etc.)
  • Creating a supportive environment where staff solve their own problems:  
    When a staff member is defined as the Alpha or the Team Lead, the role for the rest of the staff is one of 'Beta' or 'supportive team member'. Specifically, if the Alpha has reached a roadblock, the staff's role is to help the Alpha resolve their own issue. Rather than offer unsolicited suggestions or a critique, their role is to ask problem-solving questions such as, "What problem are you trying to solve?", "What have you tried so far?", and "What help do you need?"
  • Professional Development for current and future growth:
    Each Program director has access to funds to help them develop knowledge or skills to do their current job, and access to the Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Affairs funds up to $1,500 for professional development that would help them meet future professional goals, separate from their current job.   

Some early metrics of positive impact after implementing these measures include the increased number of annual programs, and UCSF's ongoing Gallup employee engagement survey, where the OCPD staff scored the office 4.7 out of 5. 

Upcoming Events


How to inclusively hire: Which strategies will you use?

Date: May 30, 2024
Time: 12 - 2 p.m.

OCPD Office Hours (for Graduate Students and Postdocs)

Date: May 30, 2024
Time: 9 - 10 a.m.

OCPD Office Hours (for Graduate Students and Postdocs)

Date: June 4, 2024
Time: 12 -1 p.m.