eNEWS lets you know about the activities of the Work, Family & Health Network.  This quarter we are sharing a few articles that lay the groundwork for the Phase II Network research that is currently underway.

Getting to the Bottom of Work-Related Sleeplessness

Sleep (or lack of it) can affect everything from weight gain to blood pressure. That’s why researchers from Harvard University were interested in the sleep patterns of employees in extended care facilities. Specifically, they asked whether the amount a health care worker sleeps differs if they are white versus African/Caribbean immigrant.1 Past research showed that non-Hispanic black Americans sleep less than white Americans, but the question remaining unanswered was how much of that difference was caused by a person’s environment and social factors.

To answer this question, Network researchers surveyed employees in four extended care facilities in Massachusetts. They conducted worksite interviews in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and invited employees to wear a wrist actigraphy device, which measures how much a person sleeps. They not only looked at race, but also job characteristics and social conditions that might affect sleep duration.

Results are in

Their statistical model of 340 employees found that African/Caribbean immigrant employees slept over an hour less (64.4 fewer minutes) than non-Hispanic white employees. Interestingly, this difference was 41% smaller after accounting for education, income, and job factors. The factors that predicted less sleep in African/Caribbean immigrant health care workers were working at night and total hours of work per week. Overall, the socioeconomic and job characteristics seem to explain much, but not all of the racial difference in sleep duration. This study was conducted as part of the Phase I Work-Family Health Network research and is one reason why the Phase II research measures whether the workplace programs change sleep patterns.

Let’s Be Clear: What Support Best Reduces Work-family Conflict?

Research has shown that social support in the workplace can reduce conflict between work and family.

Unfortunately, this strong statement leaves questions about what is meant by “social support.” Does this hypothesis apply to a certain type of support? Is it better if support comes from an organization or a person’s supervisor?

These were major questions for Dr. Ellen Ernst Kossek (Michigan State University), Shaun Pilcher (California State University), and Todd Bodner and Leslie Hammer (Portland State University). Specialists in the field of work-family health, the scientists wanted to fill a gap in the literature. They also wanted to create something brand new: a model of the many inter-related paths between work-family conflict and different types and sources of social support in the workplace. Statistical modeling can help researchers look at how many types of support relate to conflict between work and home. It’s a step toward even more complicated modeling that the Phase II Work, Family & Health Network research will use to study the effects of workplace interventions on employee health and well being.

Work-family-specific support works best to reduce work-family conflict

The investigators conducted a meta-analysis to clarify what type of social support helps employees facing work-family conflict.2 They aggregated research of sufficient effect size that measured both social support and work-family conflict. Altogether they evaluated 115 samples from 85 studies in the work-family health field, which together included data on 72,507 employees.

Their research was just published in a recent issue of Personnel Psychology, and here’s what they found. Work-family conflict is best mitigated by work-family-specific support—as opposed to general support, whether from a supervisor or the organization. Although work-family conflict is reduced well by both organizational and supervisor support, the study shows that increased supervisor support specific to work-family is the way through which individuals perceive their employer is supportive. Supervisors on the ground have a strong relationship to how employees perceive the degree of overall employer support for work and family relationships.

These are valuable findings, both for research and applied to human resource management. They also encourage study of how supervisors can better manage emerging family issues. So informed, organizations may use this information to invest in the best ways to reduce work-family conflict among employees—knowing which types of social support are most effective, and which sources help the most.

What’s New in Work-Family?

New Publication

The Penn State University team has published another article3 from the Phase I Work, Family & Health Network research. The article, published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, talks about differences in work and family stress experienced by managers and hourly employees in the hotel industry.

In late June, the Huffington Post published an article citing the benefits of workplace flexibility. Written by Janet Walsh, deputy women's rights director at Human Rights Watch, it featured the Best Buy research study conducted by Network Researchers Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen. This study showed that a workplace environment change reduced turnover and mitigated work-family conflict. The article describes a number of research studies on workplace flexibility and concludes that it is a win-win for businesses and employees.
Read the full article: Workplace Flexibility Breeds Contentment on all Sides

Workplace culture change must include manager behavior

Once again, research has indicated that managers are a key part of any workplace flexibility program. New research from Alexandra Beauregard of the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that even flexible working hours and available childcare are not enough without positive manager endorsement. She suggests including “effectiveness in helping employees achieve a good work-life balance” in the performance appraisals of managers.
Read the full article: Managers Should be Assessed on Work-life Balance

In This Edition
  • Getting to the Bottom of Sleeplessness
  • New Ways of Looking at Employee Support 
  • What's New in Work-Family?

Around the Web 

Half of Those Vacationing This Summer Will Work
WorldatWork, July 29, 2011

Your Employees Are Feeling Less Loyal, Survey Finds
Fox Business, July 28, 2011

More Than One in Six American Workers Also Act as Caregivers
Gallup News, July 26, 2011

21 Workplace Benefits That Are Rapidly Disappearing
U.S. News and World Report, July 22, 2011

Telecommute Nation: If Half of Us Could Work Remotely, Why Don't We?
The Atlantic, July 22, 2011

Unlimited Vacation, But Can You Take It?
The Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2011

Flexible Hours, Sabbaticals keep Work Force Happy, Engaged
Chicago Sun-Times, July 4, 2011

Top-Level Professionals View 40-Hour Work Week as Part-Time: Report
The Huffington Post, July 1, 2011

Can Retail, Call Center, And Housekeeping Staff Have Work-Life Flexibility?
Fast Company, June 27, 2011

The Who, What, Where, and Why Not of Telecommuting
Telework Research Network, June 27, 2011

Work at Home and in the Workplace, 2010
Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2011

Census 2010 News: The Changing American Family
Pew Research, June 23, 2011

Overworked? No Way: 10 Countries With the Best Work-Life Balance
TIME, June

Caring for Elderly Takes an Increasing Toll
Baby boomers feel the effects of a steep rise in elder care.
Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2011

see 2011 research publications>

The Work, Family & Health Network is composed of interdisciplinary research teams from the University of Minnesota, Penn State University, Harvard University, Portland State University, Michigan State University, Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, and RTI International.

1. Ertel KA, Berkman LF, Buxton OM. Socioeconomic status, occupational characteristics, and sleep duration in African/Caribbean immigrants and US white health care workers. Sleep 2011; 34(4):509-518.
2. Kossek EE, Pichler S, Bodner T, Hammer LB. Workplace social support and work-family conflict: A meta-analysis clarifying the influence of general and work-family specific supervisor and organizational support. Personnel Psychology. Summer 2011; 64(2): 289–313.
3. O’Neill JW, Davis KD. Differences in work and family stress experienced by managers and hourly employees in the hotel industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management. 2011; 30:385-390.