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A Training Intervention for Supervisors to Support a Work-Life Policy Implementation

A Training Intervention for Supervisors to Support a Work-Life Policy Implementation
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  This article appeared in a journal published by Elsevier. The attachedcopy is furnished to the author for internal non-commercial researchand education use, including for instruction at the authors institutionand sharing with colleagues.Other uses, including reproduction and distribution, or selling orlicensing copies, or posting to personal, institutional or third partywebsites are prohibited.In most cases authors are permitted to post their version of thearticle (e.g. in Word or Tex form) to their personal website orinstitutional repository. Authors requiring further informationregarding Elsevier’s archiving and manuscript policies areencouraged to visit:  Author's personal copy Original Article A Training Intervention for Supervisors to Support a Work-LifePolicy Implementation Naima Laharnar 1 , * , Nancy Glass 2 , Nancy Perrin 3 , Ginger Hanson 3 , W. Kent Anger 1 1 Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR, USA 2 School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA 3 Kaiser Permanente, Center for Health Research, Portland, OR, USA a r t i c l e i n f o  Article history: Received 10 April 2013Received in revised form9 July 2013Accepted 19 July 2013 Keywords: bene fi tevaluationinterventiontrainingpolicy a b s t r a c t Background:  Effective policy implementation is essential for a healthy workplace. The Ryan-Kossek 2008model for work-life policy adoption suggests that supervisors as gatekeepers between employer andemployee need to know how to support and communicate bene fi t regulations. This article describes aworkplace intervention on a national employee bene fi t, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and eval-uatestheeffectivenessoftheinterventiononsupervisorknowledge,awareness,andexperiencewithFMLA. Methods:  The intervention consisted of computer-based training (CBT) and a survey measuring aware-ness and experience with FMLA. The training was administered to 793 county government supervisors inthe state of Oregon, USA. Results:  More than 35% of supervisors reported no previous training on FMLA and the training pre-testrevealed a lack of knowledge regarding bene fi t coverage and employer responsibilities. The CBT ach-ieved: (1) a signi fi cant learning effect and large effect size of d ¼ 2.0, (2) a positive reaction tothe trainingand its design, and (3) evidence of increased knowledge and awareness regarding FMLA. Conclusion:  CBT is an effective strategy to increase supervisors ’  knowledge and awareness to supportpolicy implementation. The lack of supervisor training and knowledge of an important but complexemployee bene fi t exposes a serious impediment to effective policy implementation and may lead tonegative outcomes for the organization and the employee, supporting the Ryan-Kossek model. The re-sults further demonstrate that long-time employees need supplementary training on complex workplacepolicies such as FMLA.   2013, Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute. Published by Elsevier. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction 1.1. Work-life policy With an increasing number of employees dealing with care-giving and other family responsibilities, the adoption and supportof work-life policies at the workplace have increased in importance[1]. Work-life policies are employer-sponsored bene fi ts or workingconditions to balance work and nonwork demands (e.g., sick andvacation leave, maternity leave, retirement bene fi ts, daycare, in-surance coverage) and to avoid work-life con fl icts, when roleswithin and outside the workplace are overwhelming to anemployee or interfering with one another.Two of the largest US nationwide surveys interviewing em-ployers(TheUSNationalStudyoftheChangingWorkforce d NSCW)and employees (US National Study of Employers d NSE) re fl ect aworkforce in need of balancing work and life demands. Retentionand helping employees to manage work and family life are, ac-cording to the NSE, next to productivity, job satisfaction andcommitment, the main reasons for employers to adopt work-lifeinitiatives [2]. The NSCWreveals thatthe proportion ofwomen andof men in the US workforce are nearly equal (51% men and 49%women), 78% of couples are in dual-earning families, and 35% of employees have elder care responsibilities. Balancing work and lifeis not easy; 45% of employees with families reported work-familycon fl icts. This is substantially higher than 25 years ago when the *  Corresponding author. Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET), Oregon Health and Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson ParkRoad, Portland, OR 97239-3849, USA. E-mail address: (N. Laharnar).This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the srcinal work is properly cited. Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Safety and Health at Work journal homepage: 2093-7911/$  e  see front matter    2013, Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute. Published by Elsevier. All rights reserved. Safety and Health at Work 4 (2013) 166 e 176  Author's personal copy numberwas34%[3].TheNSCWalsoshowsthatsupportivework-lifepolicies and practices lead to employees re fl ecting more positivework and life outcomes such as higher job satisfaction, commit-ment, and retention; fewer work-life con fl icts, and better mentalhealth [3 e 6] bene fi ting both the employee as well as the organi-zation. Yet, the NSE reveals thatonly 27% of US employers surveyedreportedeffortstoinformemployeesaboutassistanceforbalancingwork and family demands. 1.2. The US   “  Family and Medical Leave Act  ”   as a work-life bene  fi t  Our study evaluated a workplace intervention, investigating theawareness, knowledge, and usage of a US work-life bene fi t, theFamilyandMedicalLeaveAct(FMLA)of1993.Thisleaveisdesignedto help employees balance family and work demands by allowingupto12weeksofunpaidbutjob-protectedleavefromworkover12months for their own or their families ’  serious medical needs,includingtimeofftocareforanewchild.Thisleaveallowsa fl exiblework schedule and is one means to prevent work-life con fl icts andto increase employees ’  productivity, job satisfaction, and retention[7,8]. FMLA includes maternity leave, a globally recognized bene fi toffered by 190 countries worldwide [9]. It also offers leave forserious medical health issues and to care for family members withseriousmedicalhealthissues.Morethan35millionemployeestookleave under FMLA in the fi rst 7 years since its enactment [10] and itis widely required of organizations (employers with at least 50employees and all governmental organizations). In 2000, 11% of private establishments and all public-sector employers in the USwere covered under FMLA, a total of 58% of the US workforce[10,11]. However, employers do not always communicate details totheemployee[12].Approximately41%ofemployeesattheseFMLA- covered establishments reported that they had not heard of FMLAand49%ofemployeesatthesecoveredestablishmentsreportednotknowing whether the FMLA applied to them personally [11]. There is a lack of training and education on this law for supervisors[13,14]. In 2000, 14.5% of eligible employees elected to not takeleave when needed [11] due to  fi nancial constraints (as FMLA isunpaid leave), fear of job loss, seniority, or job advancement.Organizational culture such as the appearance of not beingcommitted to the work and job demands are additional reasons[11,12]. The employer needs to provide information on FMLA butalso support and assist the employee in using the leave.FMLA regulations are complex. Human resource (HR) personnel,the acknowledged experts for FMLA leave and usually the ones whograntandtracktheleavefortheirorganization[13],reportstrugglingwith administering the law and providing consistent information[14]. De fi nitions such as  “ serious health condition ”  are unclear andf requent changes to improve and clarify these regulations challengeFMLA ’ s administration. Another challenge for organizations is that,next to the federal US law, several states (California, Connecticut,Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Ver-mont,Washington,Wisconsin,andtheDistrictofColumbia)addtheirown state version of the law [16]. Differences between federal andstate law can include differences in employer/employee eligibility,leave time, noti fi cation, and bene fi t coverage [see Table 1 for anexample comparison between FMLA and Oregon Family Leave Act(OFLA)]. The OFLA is more generous than the federal law because itlowers the eligibility criteria for employees; it also covers domesticpartnersandgrandparentsaseligiblefamilymembers,anditincludestime off for a sick child (not a serious health condition). Coveredemployers must comply with the federal or state provision thatprovides the greater bene fi t to their employees. It is also a federalrequirement to have the FMLA posters visibly posted in the work-place. These posters contain basic information on the leave laws,including eligibility and leave time [17]. 1.3. Challenges: Effective policy implementation on supervisor level Implementing a complex work-life policy such as FMLAand following its regulations can be challenging. Ineffective  Table 1 Differences between the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA)FMLA OFLAEmployerrequirement50 employees 25 employeesHealth coveragecontinuationYes No e  not requiredEmploymentrequirement12 mo and 1250 hr 180 d (6 mo) and 25 h/wk (exception parental leave)Eligible leavereasonsSerious health condition leavePregnancy disabilityParental leaveMilitary leaveAdditionally includes: Care for sick childLeave time 1 time of 12 wk in 12 mo Up to 3 times of 12 wk in 12 months possible for thefollowing reasons and only in this order: e  1st, 12 wk of pregnancy disability e  2nd, 12 wk of parental leave e  3rd, 12 wk for a sick childDe fi nition: Serioushealth conditionDetailed requirements (e.g., two or more treatments:a second  “ in-person ”  visit)Same requirements, but less speci fi c (e.g., only: two or more treatments)Covered familymemberChild < 18 y Child  18 y, incapable of self-careSpouse and parentAdditionally includes:Child  18 y (not disabled)Parent-in-lawSame-sex domestic partnerGrandparent/grandchildrenParental leave time 6 wk for each parent 12 wk for each parent N. Laharnar   et al /  Work-life Workplace Intervention  167  Author's personal copy implementationduetounaware,undereducated,andunsupportiveworkplaces may result in increased work-family con fl icts, inten-tional or unintentional misuse and abuse of the leave (e.g., takingtoomuchtimeoff),lowemployeemorale[13,15],andevenlawsuitsagainst the employer [18]. It is important toeducate supervisors, asthe key person between employer and employee, to effectivelycommunicate and support the policy with employees [19].Ryan and Kossek 2008 [20] offer a model to depict thecomplexity of the connection between work-life policy adoption,employee perception of inclusion, and work/health outcomes.Their model (adapted in Fig. 1) emphasizes the role of policyimplementation and recognizes the supervisor as the key agent inthat implementation.As suggested by the Ryan-Kossek model (Fig. 1), employeeperceptions and understanding of the bene fi ts can in fl uenceemployee attitudes and satisfaction, which in turn is linked tooutcomes such as work-life con fl icts, stress, job commitment, andproductivity [6,21]. A trained supervisor who supports FMLA cancreate a supportive atmosphere in which employees do not fearretribution for taking needed leave and are supported in managingtheir workload. This may lead to a healthy workplace with positiveoutcomes such as job satisfaction and productivity.Most organizations and employers rely on their HR departmentto effectivelycommunicate the bene fi t regulations and their valuesto their employees. However, HR management has becomeincreasingly decentralized, and implementation of work-life pol-icies has shifted to the frontline supervisors. Through supervisors ’ behaviors and attitudes, the employee perceives the work envi-ronment as either supportive or nonsupportive of these policies[20,22 e 25]. Supervisors are the gatekeepers to policy imple-mentation and communication and training supervisors in policyimplementation and informal practices is crucial [20,21]. Eventhough supervisor support is positively linked to reduced work-family con fl ict [26], there is a gap between espoused and enactedpolicy practices and one of the most signi fi cant reasons for this gapis that supervisors are not suf  fi ciently trained in policy and bene fi tpractices and delivery [27].Training is an essential tool to maintain a healthy and compet-itive workplace [28]. It is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide(in 2010 approximately $52.8 billion was spent on training in theUnited States) with management and supervisory training pre-dicted to lead in future spending increases. The e-learning marketcan provide superior effectiveness and reduced costs compared toclassroom training and is bene fi cial because it can  fi t around day-to-day work activities [29 e 31]. However, the literature reveals alack of workplace interventions and trainings in the work-life  fi eld[32]. Supervisor training to increase work-life support is one of themost frequently advocated interventions by work-life experts[19,21,33,34]. 1.4. Purpose of the study The purpose of this study was to assess and then increase su-pervisors ’  knowledge of FMLA in the United States, a work-lifebene fi t that is the supervisors ’  responsibility to communicate andsupport in order to effectively implement the policy. 2. Materials and methods  2.1. Participants and recruitment  Oregon county governments (urban and rural areas) wereinvited to participate in a research study including a computer-based FMLA training for supervisors. Twenty-six of Oregon ’ s 36counties (72%) accepted. The county populations participatingranged from 1,426 to 540,410 residents [35].The counties ’  HR/personnel departments were requested torecruit all supervisors and managers by distributing a trainingadvertisement  fl yer (approved by Oregon Health and Science Uni-versity and The Johns Hopkins University ’ s Institutional ReviewBoard) through postings, pay envelope, and/or e-mail. HR em-ployees in a payroll or administrative role but not in a supervisoryposition also completed the training (11% of participants). In eightcounties (31%) the training was mandatory;in most counties it wasoptional but encouraged by the HR department. A lottery-styleincentive for participating supervisors ($25 or $49 visa gift card)was offered and 20 counties (70%) accepted. No training perfor-mancedifferences were found due tomandatory versus optional orincentive versus no incentive counties.  2.2. Training design and topics Broad dissemination to our target audience was essential so weselected interactive computer-based training (CBT) due to its po-tential delivery as web training as the most time- fl exible choice forsupervisors. The  “ Family and Medical Leave ”  training was presentedin cTRAIN (; Lake Oswego, OR, USA [36]), a CBT formatincorporating behavioral education principles [37,38] such as self- Fig. 1.  Ryan-Kossek (2008) model on work-life policy adoption and implementation.  Note.  Adapted from  “ Work-life policy implementation: Breaking down or creating barriers toinclusiveness?, ”  by A.M. Ryan and E.E. Kossek, 2008,  Human Resource Management  , 42, 298 p. Copyright 2013, E.E. Kossek. Adapted with permission. Saf Health Work 2013;4:166  e 176  168  Author's personal copy pacing, real-life scenarios, and interactivity (e.g., pretraining andpost-training questions, quiz questions during training with imme-diate feedback, movies). We used a simpli fi ed response unit withnine buttons, placed over the laptop keyboard to provide an easyinput option for the keys 1 e 9 required to interact with the training.The simple navigation together with clear instructions and aconsistentscreen layout (use of color, function keys,and unclutteredtext)wasdesignedtoreducecognitiveoverloadduetoreadjustmentor confusion and disorientation [36,39,40]. If implemented effec-tively, this will ensure that the participant focuses on training con-tent instead of the training format [31,41,42]. Previous training withcTRAIN increased knowledge and achieved large effect sizes, ameasure used to compare trainings across studies [33,43].The  “ Family and Medical Leave ”  training described generalbene fi t requirements such as eligibility and qualifying FMLA situ-ations, the role and responsibilities of the supervisor, and infor-mation on the request and approval process. The training alsodescribed Oregon ’ s version of family medical leave, the OFLA, anddescribed the differences between FMLA and OFLA (see Table I inAppendix 1 for an overview). The  “ Family and Medical Leave ” training was reviewed and pilot tested for accuracy, clarity andduration by HR experts, bene fi t specialists, and an attorneyspecializing in FMLA and policy development.  2.3. Study design and measures The study determined the effectiveness of FMLA training tar-geting supervisors employed in participating Oregon county gov-ernments. Outcomes were measured pretraining and immediatepost-training with follow-ups at 3 months, 6 months, and 12months post-training intervention. The main pretraining and post-training measures included a knowledge testand a surveyon FMLAawareness and experience. Additionally, the number of employeesusingleaveforFMLAandotherreasonswascollectedmonthlyfromcountiesandwalkthroughsof threeto fi ve county buildings ineachcounty to observe bulletin boards to record evidence of postedinformation on FMLA were conducted pretraining and post-training (see Table 2 for details). 3. Procedures The training was implemented using laptops on site in counties ’ conference or training rooms. After signing a consent form, eachparticipant completed six sections: demographic questions, survey,pretraining knowledge test, FMLA training, and post-trainingknowledge test and evaluation (Table 3).Supervisors received the option to participate in the researchstudy by  fi rst completing 15 demographic questions prior to thetraining. If they declined to participate, they were routed auto-maticallytothebeginningofthetrainingsessionandtheirtestdatawere excluded from analyses. The training started with a surveyincluding sixquestions (yes/no) on supervisor ’ s awareness of FMLApostings, usage, and organizational support such as FMLA training.This survey was repeated online ( at 3 months,6 months, and 12 months after the training and was offered to allsupervisors in each participating county, including the questionwhetherornottheyhadtakenthetraining.Duringthe6monthand12 month follow-ups we also asked six yes/no questions regardingtheir personal experience with FMLA. Following the survey,supervisors completed 10 multiple-choice pretest questionsmeasuring knowledge of FMLA. Each question had four answeroptions, a chance level of 25%. Next, participants started thetraining with 10 information sections on FMLA, each concludingwith quiz questions that had to be answered correctly in order toproceed tothe next section. If answered incorrectly, the participant  Table 2 Study measures and time points when they were collectedMeasure Time pointsKnowledge test Immediate pre-trainingImmediate post-trainingSurvey  e  Questions1 e 6 (FMLA awareness)Immediate pre-trainingPost-training follow-ups(at 3 mo, 6 mo, and 12 mo)Survey  e  Questions7 e 12 (FMLA experience)Post-training (at 6 mo and 12 mo)Employee leave data Pre-training (average of 6 mo)Post-training (average of 6 mo)Observation of FMLApostingsPre-training (at 3 mo prior training)Post-training follow-ups(at 6 mo and 12 mo)FMLA, Family and Medical Leave Act.  Table 3 Training procedures in detailSections Details ExampleDemographicinformation15 questions on age, gender,race, job duration,computer usage, etc.What is your gender?Survey 6 questions on FMLAawareness/workplacesupportAs far as I am aware,information about FMLA/OFLAleave is posted for theemployees at the workplace.Knowledge test 10 questions to measurebaseline knowledgeWhat are the variables usedto de fi ne eligibility forFMLA/OFLA?FMLA training Interactive training with48 Info screens and13 quiz questionsFor details see Appendix A1Knowledge test(repeated)10 questions tomeasure knowledgegainWhat are the variables usedto de fi ne eligibility forFMLA/OFLA?Evaluation 3 reaction questions What is your overall ratingof this FMLA and OFLA training?FMLA, Family and Medical Leave Act; OFLA, Oregon Family Leave Act.  Table 4 Participant characteristics ( n ¼ 793)Question Answer  n  (%)Gender Female 430 (54.2)Age  > 50 y 401 (50.6)Ethnicity Hispanic/Latino 18 (2.3)Race White 747 (94.2)Education  > 13 y 675 (85.1)Supervision of 1 e 10 employees 529 (66.7)Current job duration   10 y 410 (51.7)Working h/wk   40 h 719 (90.7) Job position Manager or supervisor 702 (88.5)Time spent on a computer  > 5 h per wk 714 (90.1) N. Laharnar   et al /  Work-life Workplace Intervention  169
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