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OPM Work-Life Effort May Have Broader Impact

July 28, 2009
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Stress Management, Work/Life Balance, Latest News
The Office of Personnel Management is launching a series of programs to improve work/life balance for its 5,000 employees, a move that, if successful, many say will cascade throughout the federal government and into the private sector.

During the past several months, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have called for employers to do a better job in establishing work/life balance programs.

The president has reviewed our plans and is very excited by it,” says John Berry, director of the OPM.

Establishing work/life programs and creating a better work environment is critical, particularly in the public sector, where managers don’t control pay and benefits, Berry says.

Rather than launch a series of pilot programs, Berry has created a task force of 12 employees dubbed “The Wolf Pack” to discover what the OPM workforce wants. The OPM also is holding monthly town hall meetings to discuss possibilities for work/life programs, he says.

“I don’t have unlimited money, so we want to come up with a list of priorities,” he says.

Among the suggestions is providing day care not just for employees’ children, but also for their parents, which is becoming a growing issue, Berry says.

The OPM has already started to expand its wellness programs. It is devoting $300,000 to upgrading its health clinic.

And the agency isn’t working alone.

It is teaming up with the Department of the Interior and the General Services Administration to see how they can coordinate efforts and share resources, Berry says.

“For example, the Department of Interior has a nice gym, so there is no reason to replicate that,” he says. “But we might kick in more money to hire more staff so that our employees can use it.”

Experts would like to see the OPM be creative about what it does with regard to work/life programs.

Too often, work/life balance is thought of as just allowing employees to telework, and it’s so much more than that, says Kathryn Kadilak, a former work/life manager for the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration and president of Strategic WorkLife Solutions in Warrenton, Virginia.

“Unfortunately, telework has overtaken everything else,” Kadilak says. “That’s why I think OPM is looking at what they can do in terms of broader work/life programs.”

Currently 34 percent of the OPM’s eligible employees telework, and the agency’s Wolf Pack is talking to academic institutions as well as private employers about other ways to provide work/life balance, Berry says.

“Telework is a great tool and one that we are working to expand and implement more broadly, but by no means is it the be-all, end-all,” he says.

Experts believe that if Berry’s programs are successful, not only will other federal agencies adopt them, but private employers will as well, as they realize they need such programs to compete for talent.

Given the poor economy, many private-sector employees have lost their jobs and are looking at public-sector jobs as an alternative, says Kathie Lingle, director of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Alliance for Work-Life Progress, a division of WorldatWork.

“A guaranteed pension is looking pretty good right now,” she says. “A lot of the talent that has been fired may not be available to private-sector employers to be rehired unless they implement these kinds of programs.”

—Jessica Marquez

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