Life Solutions can help supervisors get help for employees


Pitt’s supervisory staff don’t take enough advantage of available counseling for employees having difficulties in their personal or work life, or of available leadership training for themselves, through UPMC’s Life Solutions program, says Tom Koloc, UPMC’s senior account manager.

Maybe that’s because they don’t realize these opportunities are here as a resource, he says.

Even if an issue doesn't interfere with a staff member’s ability to work, Koloc says, a supervisor may notice the employee experiencing sadness or nervousness and hope to help — with the employee’s permission, of course. If the issue does indeed get in the way of effective work performance, the supervisor may wish to get a counselor involved as well.

Supervisors, including department heads, also can take a variety of online skill-building classes geared to those in leadership roles, available here. They can call counselors confidentially to talk about “sensitive employee situations,” Koloc says, as well as “issues with their own leadership style,” such as how to handle their workload or how to build a more cohesive team.

Staff members in leadership roles may call Life Solutions for a consultation at any time, or make an appointment to speak about an issue. “It’s an aspect of the service that we’d like Pitt leadership to take more advantage of,” Koloc says.

Ninety percent of Life Solutions’ counseling is initiated by employees themselves, he reports. He hopes to encourage supervisors to refer staff members for counseling at three different levels:

  • Suggested referrals: When the supervisor notices an employee visibly upset about a personal situation, even when the employee’s work has not been affected.

  • Formal voluntary referrals: May be used as part of a corrective plan for a work performance issue.

  • Mandatory referral: When involvement with Life Solutions is contingent on an employee continuing in their job, following a serious workplace infraction, such as unsafe behavior or a substance abuse problem.

Koloc emphasizes that all referrals, and all subsequent counseling, are confidential and require an employee’s consent. In the case of a performance-related referral, supervisors also are required to have written consent from the employee for the counselor to report that the employee took part in the counseling and is following the resulting recommendations.

Supervisors can best assess the health of the work environment, notes Linda Tashbook, head of the University Senate’s Benefits and Welfare committee, which has a Mental Wellness Task Force concerned about such employee issues.

“Supervisors are in the unique position of having a global view of what is going on, and they alone have the power to change it,” she says. “They realize that the whole work unit can be affected by one person’s symptoms. It is not supportive to say, ‘Let’s leave the employee alone because they are not feeling well.’ ”

Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Cheryl Johnson, however, cautions against supervisors acting alone or making medical judgments: “If a University leader wants to use Life Solutions’ programs as part of a development plan, they should contact their employee and labor relations consultant, who will work with them to create an appropriate plan,” she says in a statement. “[T]he University does not permit its managers to assess and/or diagnose health issues of any individual. Life Solutions information can always be provided to staff and faculty as a resource. However, any requests for more comprehensive assistance should be directed to Employee Relations …”

The philosophy behind suggesting supervisors seek training for themselves or counseling for employees, Koloc says, is that “good managers calm the organization” and “ineffective managers escalate pre-existing tensions. Strengthening the resiliency of a manager benefits the organization.

“Our goal is to make leaders’ jobs easier,” he concludes. “The more leadership intervenes in employee situations, the more likely they are to get resolved before they escalate. The earlier leadership responds, the better the outcome.”

Marty Levine is a University Times staff writer. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.

Life Solutions poster