Too many managers don' t believe that HR is serious about work/family policies. They see work/family as the flavor of themonth and believe if they ignore it, it will go away, Linda Duxbury, business professor at Carleton University inOttawa, tells Human Resource Management News.

In their surveys of more than 20,000 employees, Duxbury says that she and Christopher Higgins, a business professor at theUniversity of Western Ontario, often find a gap between policy and practice. Employees can take advantage ofwork/family policies only when they have supportive managers who allow it.

Recognizing Life outside Work

From their research Duxbury and Higgins have created a profile of a supportive manager: Someone who recognizes thatemployees have a life outside work, provides positive feedback, engages in two-way communication, mentorsemployees, facilitates the completion of job tasks, empowers employees and shows respect for employees.

The supportive manager makes it easy for employees to rearrange work schedules when there is a legitimate need,allows them to take advantage of flexible work arrangements, and gives advance notice of early or late meetings.

A non-supportive manager - according to the researchers - expects work always to be given priority over non-work,focuses on the negative, is inconsistent, is poor at giving direction, shows a lack of respect for employees, and doesnot empower employees.

The non-supportive manager focuses on the number of hours worked rather than on output; expects everyone to worklong hours, regardless of personal situations; makes comments whenever employees take time off; and makes negativecomments if employees cannot attend company activities outside work hours.

Some managers are "mixed," Duxbury says. Sometimes they behave in a supportive manner, sometimes they don' t.

"Mixed managers often are under stress themselves. It' s possible to move them [ to the supportive category] . We' re notgood at moving the 10% who simply don' t believe in people," she says.

Making Managers Supportive

To move more managers into the supportive category, a company should assess its managers' people management skillsand hold managers accountable for how they treat employees.

"Find out what behaviors are critical in your organization and assess managers on those. Link those behaviors tooutcome. If retention is a big issue, link how your managers behave to that. It' s the same with absenteeism, etc.

"You have to say to managers: ' These are the behaviors we want. If you don' t have these behaviors, it' s not entirelyyour fault. We used to have different standards. We will help you get these behaviors, and we will measure how you aredoing,' " she says. Set a timeline, and if those individuals cannot change, then take them out of people managementpositions.

"Once you take a few managers out, you will get their attention. Many managers believe this is just another fad. Thisdemonstrates you are serious. They' re waiting for it to go away. You' ve got to shake them out of that."

It' s worth the effort to move managers into the supportive category, Duxbury says, because a supportive manager is good for all aspects ofemployee relations, not just work/family initiatives. Having a supportive manager increases employees' job satisfaction and reduces stress, accordingto their research.

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