Training Supervisors in How to Support Work/Life BalanceThe November 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review offers another instance of how intelligent flexibility on the part of managers produces better results for a business than intensive enforcement of rigid rules.
In a brief article, Ellen Ernst Kossek, professor of human resource management at Michigan State University's School of Labor & Industrial Relations, and Leslie B. Hammer, professor of psychology at Portland State University, report the results of a multi-year study of supervisors and employees in American supermarkets.1 In sum:
Teaching managers to be more supportive of their direct reports' work/life issues can be a simple and effective route to improving employee health and satisfaction ...The core of Kossek and Hammer's research program involved developing and evaluating training for supermarket supervisors designed to help the supervisors more effectively plan coverage in their stores and deal with employees' scheduling conflicts.
The training had three components:
- A self-paced computer tutorial that took about 30-45 minutes for a supervisor to complete.
- A 75-minute discussion session with a few fellow supervisors and a faciltator.
- Having supervisors set individual goals for what they had learned and, for a few weeks following the discussion session, record their supportive behaviors on index cards.
- Providing emotional support "acknowledging employees' sometimes extensive responsibilities outside work."
- Providing structural support "working with employees ahead of time to resolve scheduling conflicts."
- Modeling healthful behavior "for example, showing that it is acceptable to occasionally attend important family functions during work hours."
- Partnering with other managers i.e., working with fellow managers "to strategically address work/life issues through initiatives like interdepartmental cross-training, which increases coverage options."
- Employees' perceptions that their supervisors were supportive on work/like issues were significantly improved.
- Employees "reported improvements in their overall health as measured by such factors as pain and psychological problems. This effect was most pronounced among employees who previously had the highest levels of work/life conflict for example, a frequent need to change their hours to accommodate children's schedules."
- Employees were more satisfied in their jobs.
- Employees were less inclined to seek jobs elsewhere.
- Employees reported greater willingness to comply with safety programs.
- There was generally close agreement between employees' ratings of their managers' supportivesness and the managers' self-ratings. Prior to the training, the employees' ratings were markedly lower than the ratings managers gave themselves.
1 Kossek and Hammer codirect the Center for Work-Family Stress, Safety and Health in Portland OR.