Creating and Sustaining Wellness Cultures for Faculty, Staff, and Students to Thrive

By Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk and Elizabeth R. Click

May 13, 2024

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Recent studies have shown a clear link between workplace culture and well-being. People who feel supported and valued at work experience less burnout, depression, stress, and anxiety. Culture shapes how we feel emotionally, and it even influences whether we consistently engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors. While changing a culture takes time and effort, the benefits for everyone’s well-being make it worthwhile. This is especially true for campus communities, in which a positive culture can improve the lives of students, faculty, and staff.

Campus stakeholders at all levels—top leaders, employees, and students—have a crucial role in fostering a strong wellness culture and environment. This collaborative effort requires leadership that is invested in the health and well-being of their community and actively promotes and embodies healthy behaviors. Additionally, successful wellness programs should be both readily accessible and easy for participants to join. Clear communication regarding these programs and services is essential. Ultimately, a thriving wellness culture fosters a sense of care and belonging through which individuals feel valued and experience an overall improvement in well-being due to their connection to the campus.

Leadership is key to creating a culture of wellness. Campus staff and administrators must invest in the well-being of their campus community, and faculty need to promote wellness in their academic curriculum and courses. Investment in wellness is not a nicety; it is a necessity that yields a positive return on investment and value of investment.

One step that leaders can take is to gather data on the experiences of their campus community. Very few academic institutions in the United States collect annual perceived wellness culture data, yet this information is crucial for implementing effective interventions in the specific areas that need improvement. The Wellness Culture and Environment Support Scale is a valid and reliable resource for campuses from the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities (see

Campus stakeholders at all levels can support a culture of well-being by modeling healthy lifestyle behaviors and actively participating in wellness events. They can also share regular doses of “Vitamin G” (as in gratitude) with colleagues and members of the campus community to demonstrate their appreciation and convey that they matter.

Academic leaders should be empowered to take strong actions to support a culture of well-being. A key recommendation is to not only appoint a chief wellness officer at the executive level but then to ensure that they have the necessary resources to lead and foster a robust wellness culture across campus. Academic leaders can also incorporate well-being into the institution’s strategic plan. The plan should not just set goals; it should also establish a system for evaluation that will provide valuable data, in turn allowing leaders to follow an evidence-based quality improvement approach. It also should go beyond a singular program and instead offer diverse options for evidence-based wellness and mental health resiliency programs. Finally, addressing the stigma surrounding mental health is crucial.

Administrative and academic leaders and department heads have a critical role in nurturing a culture of well-being within their institutions. Staying informed about campus wellness resources and actively promoting their use among faculty, staff, and students is a foundational step. To build a supportive environment, leaders should facilitate open discussions about well-being during departmental meetings and create safe spaces in which everyone feels valued and heard.

A culture of trust and empathy is central to fostering well-being in academic settings. Leaders can demonstrate genuine care and understanding and inspire others to do the same, which fosters a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere. This encourages faculty and staff to embrace practices that support their own and their students’ well-being.

It’s important to design a work environment that enhances autonomy, encourages cross-functional collaboration, and promotes sustainable workloads. These elements not only improve the well-being of individuals but also contribute to a more productive and resilient academic community. By adopting these strategies, higher education professionals can create a thriving culture of well-being that benefits everyone at the institution.

Faculty members are crucial components in shaping campus culture, as they frequently interact with students. They can promote a culture of well-being by emphasizing the importance of self-care and mental health. By becoming aware of common signs of mental health challenges and familiarizing themselves with campus support resources, they can offer early intervention and guidance. Participating in Mental Health First Aid training is one way to develop or strengthen this knowledge.

Faculty can further contribute by weaving brief, evidence-based wellness practices into their teaching. Incorporating techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or cognitive-behavioral skills into the curriculum not only benefits students’ mental health but can also enhance their learning experience. The NCBHAC’s Faculty Wellness Toolkit offers valuable strategies for integrating these practices into course content.

Finally, faculty can foster a supportive learning environment by designing course assignments that are realistic and manageable to reduce unnecessary stress on students. By adopting these approaches, faculty can create a healthier, more supportive academic community.

Key recommendations for a grassroots effort to build and sustain a culture of wellness include:

  • Creating a structured wellness ambassador program for faculty and staff in which volunteers dedicate a few hours per month to promoting a culture of wellness in their college or unit; this impactful, low-cost approach should include structured support, resources, and training for ambassadors to lead wellness initiatives
  • Launching a student wellness coaching initiative through which trained students serve as wellness coaches for their peers
  • Providing ongoing wellness challenges that are fun and unique to your institution for faculty, staff, and students
  • Offering several evidence-based programming options and wellness resources to faculty, staff, and students
  • Establishing policies that enhance well-being; for example, flexible work support or wellness days that can be taken instead of or in addition to sick days
  • Fixing systemic issues that are known to cause burnout in faculty, staff, and students, such as work overload, understaffing, unnecessary tasks, and rigid requirements

Culture change takes time and patience. It is important to start with leaders, managers, supervisors, faculty, and individuals in every department, school, or college who are early adopters, as they will often be successful in helping to bend the curve on culture at their respective levels. Remember that changing culture inch by inch is a cinch but yard by yard is hard! Don’t give up; improvement in the health and well-being of your faculty, staff, and students is well worth it.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please contact us.

About the Authors

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk

Elizabeth R. Click

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