Work/Life Balance and Chain of Command Support Related to Canadian Armed Forces Members’ Distance Learning Satisfaction

Major Kim Jones, a learner in #SecondLife

As I have in some of my previous blog articles, I will share here a small section of my doctoral research on the topic of satisfaction with distance learning (DL) experiences in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Specifically, I will share some quantitative and qualitative findings on CAF members’ perceptions related to work/life balance and their Chain of Command [employer] support in relation to their DL efforts. This research, which was defended in 2020, surveyed a sample of 368 CAF members, with 12 follow-on interviews. These participants had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs, both for Officers and Non-Commissioned Members, between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018. While CAF members represent a unique population within a unique employment context, I would venture to guess that some of these findings may be relatable in other fields where employees are either obliged or choose to shoulder the burden of continuing with their professional development while being employed full-time.

One issue related to DL satisfaction that emerged strongly in the research data was work/life balance, including DL’s effect on family and personal time, support from the Chain of Command and, specifically, the amount of time that was provided by the Chain of Command for DL studies. For example, when asked about members’ satisfaction with the support they received from the Chain of Command, 71.7% of respondents answered that they were either somewhat or very satisfied, which is quite positive. It must be noted, however, that another 15.8% reported that they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied (n = 358). In response to the following statement: “CAF members who are DL learners are often required to complete their studies while continuing to be responsible for their normal position workload” (n = 368), responses showed high levels of agreement (92.1% agreed, 72.3% strongly agreed).

Further, some members reported not being permitted to use working hours at all for DL or, in other cases, not personally being able to divorce themselves from their heavy workloads to focus on their DL. In response to a question that asked members to comment on the amount of time they were given during working hours for their DL program/course, the top three responses, based on a coding frequency analysis were: 1) time as available; 2) one day per week; and 3) no time at all. This shows that there was a range of realities for members in terms of time provided, but the concerns of those who received “no time” or not enough time, were very pronounced in the qualitative findings. These members who had to, or in some cases, chose to complete their DL on their personal time, sometimes faced difficulties that included physical or mental health issues and distress, and issues with balancing their family responsibilities. They shared with me, as responses to open-ended survey questions and interviews, their various challenges in juggling their workload, their DL studies, and their personal and family life.

This issue was illustrated by a code frequency analysis in response to a question asking members to identify their greatest dissatisfiers with DL. The 3rd most frequent response was balancing their job with DL, and the 5th most frequent response was work/life balance, including family issues. (Of additional interest, other top dissatisfiers identified included: lack of meaningful interactions, technological issues, and issues with the quality of the course design). Further, 36.9% of respondents (n = 363) either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “DL increases the chance of burn-out for CAF members.” This may indicate that some members perceive that DL can cause work/life balance issues, potentially through the difficulties that arise from juggling their work, professional development, and other life and family responsibilities. These findings were corroborated by the qualitative data, in that the phrase “burnout” and related discussions arose numerous times.

Correlation analyses between support from the Chain of Command, family, and coworkers with overall DL satisfaction indicated that support from the Chain of Command was significantly correlated with overall DL satisfaction (rs (358) = .294, p < .01). Multiple regression analysis of the support factor, which included support from the Chain of Command, family, and co-workers combined, was shown to have a significant association with overall DL satisfaction. When these three variables were separated out (i.e. support from Chain of Command, family, and coworkers), support from the Chain of Command was found to be the most significant support predictor of overall DL satisfaction.

Presently, some members make agreements with their Chain of Command prior to starting their courses regarding the time they will use during working hours to complete their DL. This could be a helpful strategy, given that 68.5% of respondents (n = 368) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Establishing Learning Contracts to be signed by CAF members and their supervisors assigning permitted hours per week for the DL course should be a requirement for all learners of DL courses.”

The qualitative data supported the quantitative findings in that some members shared their stories of working long hours between their heavy workplace commitments and DL course loads. Others shared their stories of trying to juggle their work and DL commitments and how this caused strain on their family situations. Still others suggested that perhaps time away from work duties should be a mandatory requirement to allow members to have a more focused and valuable learning experience. Further, some members suggested that if the CAF were to ensure further availability of quiet work-spaces or computer labs on all bases, away from the regular workplace, it could be beneficial and allow members to better concentrate on DL courses with fewer interruptions.

Recommendations

Mandating an amount of time to CAF students, outside of the normal workplace and in line with the time required for effective learning to take place during DL, could be considered for all mandatory training and education. Ensuring that the Chain of Command is made aware that a certain amount of time is required, that regular tasks may need to be delayed or be reassigned, and that it is their responsibility to encourage members to take the time required and prioritize their learning appropriately could increase student satisfaction and positive learning outcomes within DL experiences.

Reflections

Balancing a full workload with various training and educational pursuits can be challenging, both in the CAF and, I suspect, in any workplace. Frank, open discussions between employee and employers and re-prioritization of time and tasks can sometimes help alleviate issues related to a heavy workload. As one research participant stated, “You can’t burn the candle at both ends.” Indeed! You may try, for a time (as I have!), but it tends not to be a sustainable way of living in the long run.

If you would like to see further details on my research, such as research methodology and full findings, please see the link below.

Once again, thank you to the survey and interview participants who took part in this research.

Reference

Jones, K.A. (2020). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

Technology: a Course Quality Consideration for Canadian Armed Forces Members’ Distance Learning Satisfaction

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Have you ever tried to complete a Distance Learning (DL) course when the technology became your focus, either because of the slowness or crashing of the system, the non user-friendly design of the interface, or the timing-out of a quiz where you lost all of your work? Me too! On the other hand, have you ever completed a learning experience at a distance where the technology was seamless and really seemed to enhance the learning experience? Me too! Let’s have a look at what some Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members had to say about their satisfaction (or lack thereof) with technology as an aspect of course quality.

As I have in previous blog articles, I will share here a small portion of my doctoral research on the topic of satisfaction with DL experiences in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Specifically, I will share some of my quantitative and qualitative findings related to technology, as a course quality consideration related to CAF member DL satisfaction. This research, which was defended in 2020, included a sample of 368 CAF members who had graduated from CAF Professional Military Education programs between the dates of January, 2015 and March, 2018. The data was gathered from surveys, as well as 12 follow-on interviews.

Technology was a subject that arose frequently in both the quantitative and qualitative research data, both as responses to direct questions as well as spontaneous comments in relation to satisfaction and ways to improve DL. For example, when asked about satisfaction with “effective course technology (e.g. DLN),” 66.4% of respondents (n=366) said that they were somewhat or very satisfied, while 21.3% of respondents said that they were somewhat or very dissatisfied. In response to the perception statement, “The CAF has good technical support systems in place to help should any technical problems arise during DL courses,” 41.3% of respondents (n=363) either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, while 27.0% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. The responses to these two questions indicate that a portion of CAF members have negative perceptions regarding DL technologies and technical support in CAF DL. This supports earlier findings from the DND “Your Say” survey research (Budgell, Butler, & Eren, 2013), that found that only 45% of respondents, from a sample of 1730 CAF members, agreed that the CAF makes good use of technology in courses. This, of course, begs the question of what the other 55% of CAF members think we could be doing better in relation to technology use within DL courses.

In the correlation analyses for course quality variables, it is noteworthy that all course quality variables that were measured (e.g. timely instructor feedback, clear learning objectives, easily accessible course materials, etc.) had a positive significant correlations with overall satisfaction. Two of the strongest significant positive correlations with overall DL satisfaction involved the satisfaction with course technology, specifically: 1) course technology that helped to reach course objectives (rs (365) = .557, p < .01); and 2) effective course technology (e.g. DLN) (rs (364) = .557, p < .01). Both of these would be considered of moderate strength. With the multiple regression analyses that were completed, both “Effective course technology” and “Course technology that helped to reach objectives” were shown to be significant predictors of DL overall satisfaction.

Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework

The qualitative data supported the quantitative findings that the topic of technology was relevant to CAF DL satisfaction. Technolgy was so prevalent in the qualitative data that it emerged as a theme unto itself. The technology theme included the following four categories: 1) accessibility; 2) usability of technologies supporting DL; 3) learning management systems (LMS); and 4) perceptions regarding DL technology in the CAF. Although some members indicated that the technology to support CAF DL had improved over the years, fewer positive sentiments and experiences concerning CAF DL technologies were shared.

Within the category of accessibility, there were many comments regarding difficulties experienced with DL technology including issues of connectivity and bandwidth. Connectivity was brought up for both office and home settings, but also in operational settings such as on ships and on overseas deployments. Members did mention that they liked the fact that they could access their DL from their homes, outside of their workplace computer. One member said, “the system is very user-friendly because it exists outside of the DWAN [Defence Wide Area Network] system, very easy to use, home computer, home-based internet.” One liked that the technology exists so that they can do DL, “anywhere, anytime.” Another member, however, stated, “I do not have access to reliable internet from my home and must conduct the course at work.” Indeed, Internet bandwidth and reliability in the more rural areas can still be an issue. Other members stated that they had issues with connectivity while trying to do their DL in the office. One member said that “the servers themselves need desperately to be updated. The system struggles greatly with large courses.” Another member commented that the “intranet at work is dead slow.” These issues, one member stated, “often result in complete loss of connection” and that sometimes the system, “does not save the work that was already completed.”

Within the category of usability, items such as the following were brought up: members’ comfort level with the DL technology, DL technology support available (including from a help desk), firewall issues, members’ requirement to use external technology to support their course, and issues encountered such as with the DND search engine, inactivity time-outs, the inability to print courseware, and a vast array of “technical hiccups.” In relation to comfort levels, one member stated that “although I am older, my computer skills and comfort level with software systems are good. I never had any issues with that part of the DL.” On the other hand, one stated that, “regardless of age, not everyone is computer savvy (i.e. a digital native). There needs to be training available that is aimed at every type of learner.” In terms of ease of searching for references on the DWAN Intranet, one member stated that it “was of no use when trying to find reference material.” Another suggested that the DND/CAF should, “invest in upgrading the DND/DWAN to have better browsers and access for research.”

Regarding the Learning Management Systems (LMS), participants discussed the Defence Learning Network 2.0 and/or Moodle, which is being used by the Royal Military Colleges of Canada (RMCC) and the Canadian Forces College (CFC), dependent on the program they had completed. There was a range of satisfaction with these tools. One Junior Officer who was interviewed stated that the DLN is “easy to use,” “very user-friendly,” and that “anybody could do it.” Other members felt that the DLN, however, left some things to be desired. One Senior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) who I interviewed about their Senior Leadership Program (SLP) experience, for example, stated that the LMS affected the interactions between students in their forum discussions. They stated that “because of the software of DLN… it wasn’t a flow,” adding that “it wasn’t very intuitive or well laid out… it was very cumbersome.”

Another member stated that the DLN, “is a very difficult program to work with… navigating the DLN is terrible and something needs to be changed…. It… creates needless frustration.” Another stated that it creates “stress for no reason trying to navigate it.” Another member commented that the “DLN is very clunky and difficult to find courses and is not very user friendly.” A Senior Officer, who had completed the Junior Command and Staff Programme (JCSP)- DL version, said of the LMS used by CFC, “it was okay, I guess. I’ve seen better, but I’ve seen worse.” Another member said, “I would complete more DL courses if the system was easier to work with.” One Senior NCM suggested, “improving the platform to enable students who are working on that theory portion of the DL so they can actually collaboratively work together if that’s what’s required. So be it from smartphones, from tablets, from work, traveling on the train, traveling in a car, whatever.”

Perceptions related to DL in the CAF, as the fourth category, were quite varied and included members’ general levels of satisfaction and expressions of frustration. Related to satisfaction, one member said the “technology was decent,” and another stated that “as a whole I think that it is getting better.” Some expressions of frustration with the technology, however, were also shared. One Intermediate Leadership Program (ILP) graduate stated, for example, that “the technical hiccups were very distracting and at times infuriating.”

The Maple Leaf, The Defence Learning Network 3.0 is here!, 8 March 2022

As illustrated in the comments from these CAF members, the various technology components related to DL, as a course quality consideration, can have a positive or negative effect on the DL satisfaction and learning experience of students. To optimize the learning experience of CAF members, we must always strive to improve upon what we have and trial courses on various platforms and browsers prior to launch. Issues found, as well as student feedback, must be addressed. It should be noted that the technology of DL is always evolving and we must strive to keep pace. The DND/CAF is currently in the process of upgrading to a newer version of our Saba Learning Management System in the cloud, known as the Defence Learning Network (DLN) 3.0. I look forward to learning more about the benefits of this new DLN iteration, including its new functionalities. This is a great step forward, as is the availability of the new DLN 3.0 virtual classroom and MS Teams for synchronous group discussions. I look forward to see what future technologies in this space will provide in order to further improve upon the student learning experience.

I would like to thank the CAF members who took part in the surveys and/or interviews in support of this research.

Reference

Budgell, G., Butler, A., & Eren, E. (2013). Task # 138: Regular Force Your-Say Survey: Spring 2012 Focus Selection Results. DRDC-RDDC-2015-C102. 

Government of Canada. (2018). Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework

Government of Canada. (2022). The Maple Leaf, The Defence Learning Network 3.0 is here!

Jones, K.A. (2021). Satisfaction of Canadian Armed Forces Regular Fores Members with their Distance Learning Experiences [Dissertation]. Athabasca University.

Queen Bee Phenomenon: Do Women Tend To Hinder Other Women’s Progress in a Male-Dominated Organization?

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

I had recently heard about the “Queen Bee Phenomenon” which has been said to be a common occurrence within male-dominated organizations and, having recognized the description of these behaviours through some of my own previous encounters, I thought it would be a good topic to explore and share.

The “Queen Bee Phenomenon” tends to be seen amongst women who pursue individual success, within a male-dominated environment, while adjusting themselves to fit within the male-dominated culture and distancing themselves from other women. To further the description, women who act as “Queen Bees” display three main behaviours to achieve one main goal. They: 1) present themselves as more masculine, emphasizing male stereotypical characteristics and downplaying female stereotypical characteristics; 2) they distance themselves (psychologically & physically) from other women- mainly from the more junior/lower-level women; and 3) they legitimize the current gender hierarchy, all in order to achieve individual success and often at the expense of other women.

It would be too easy to attribute these behaviours merely to the flawed female character. The true reasons for this phenomenon, of course, are much more complex. According to a review of research by Derks, Van Laar, & Ellemers (2016), the Queen Bee Phenomenon is not the main cause of gender equality, rather, the associated behaviours are a consequence of gender discrimination that are triggered by the devaluing of women and the negative stereotypes that women are continually encountering within a workplace dominated by men. This reaction is related to social identity theory, where individuals tend to base their identity partially on their gender. When women are in the minority within the higher ranks/positions of an organization, and when stereotypes see their gender as less able or suited to those roles, women often feel a social identity threat. This threat can lead to individual coping mechanisms which aim to improve upon their work opportunities in a male-dominated organization where career options & advancements for women are limited. These coping mechanisms can include such things as distancing themselves from others in the minority group i.e. other women, and working to assimilate themselves into the higher status group i.e. with men. Queen Bees will often disassociate from junior women, criticizing them, find them less career-focused, committed, or willing to sacrifice for their careers as they may have (e.g., not marrying or having children). These Queen Bees will work to build stereotypical characteristics more in line with male leaders.

I have briefly discussed the first two behaviors of a typical Queen Bee, that is, presenting as more masculine and distancing from other women. What about the third behaviour, then, of legitimizing the current gender hierarchy? Often Queen Bees can legitimize the status quo male-dominated companies/organizations by filling the “token” women seats at the senior level. This allows the organization to state that they have no issue with gender integration or equality and then continue on without any efforts to improve on this front. Since Queen Bees have been successful in their careers, using their often-negative coping mechanisms, they may not perceive the lack of fairness for other women in terms of promotion, available flex-time required for family responsibilities, etc. Research has shown that they are more likely then men to reject things like quota policies to benefit junior women (Rindfleish & Sheridan, 2003).

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

It must be stated that not all successful women will become Queen Bees or exhibit these characteristics. These responses are mainly triggered within male-dominated organizations where women experience social identity threats due to negative stereotypes and gender discrimination. Some women, on the other hand, in the same workplace situation will be motivated to work harder to support women’s programs and be a mentor/support to junior women. These women are more apt to be those who tend to identify more strongly with their gender at work. It is also important to note that the Queen Bee Phenomenon can also be see within other minority groups which are negatively stereotyped in the workplace. “Self-group distancing” is a term used for this.

Queen Bee behaviours can have a negative effect on women senior leaders, junior women, and on the organization overall. Amongst other effects, women leaders who have distanced themselves from other women in the workplace may miss out on the psychological benefits of identifying with other women who can provide support in relation to gender discrimination. Junior women are negatively effected by missing our on having senior women leaders as mentors, roles models, and as support as they climb the organizational ladder. Junior women may feel disheartened by the inability to relate to and receive support from the Queen Bee leader. Organizations can also be negatively affected by the Queen Bee phenomenon as it may limit their growth in diversity within the highest levels. As Queen Bees show more stereotypical masculine leadership styles, due to trying to assimilate themselves in the male-dominated workplace, and since this phenomenon can often stifle the career of junior women, the organization misses out on the diversity of perspective in leadership roles, which would surely benefit organizational outcomes. This also illustrates how having just several “token” women leaders, who are Queen Bees, can actually be detrimental.

This has been a short overview of the Queen Bee Phenomenon, as I have understood it from reading research on the topic. There is plenty more depth and research to dig into if it interests you, starting perhaps with the references below.

Have you seen these behaviours exhibited around you within a male-dominated workplace? Can you identify them within yourself? Better understanding our own behaviours and what factors can contribute to them is a good step towards change. The Queen Bee Phenomenon, of course, is not just a women’s issue. As this phenomenon is a consequence of gender discrimination and negative stereotypes against women, especially within a male-dominated work environment, and as it can have personal and organizational impacts, it is a workplace concern for us all.

References

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2016). The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 456-469.

Queen bees: Do women hinder the progress of other women? (4 Jan, 2018). BBC News.

Rindfleish, J., & Sheridan, A. (2003). No change from within: senior women managers’ response to gendered organizational structures. Women in Management Review.