Interior aims to improve quality of work life

Employees at the the Interior Department can stroll through a museum of Native American art, receive a comprehensive medical exam, and check on their sick child without ever leaving work.

The Interior Department's chief mission is protecting the nation's natural treasures, but it is also committed to improving the quality of life for employees. The agency has gone far beyond flexitime and flexiplace-providing employees with a state-of-the-art health center staffed by a full-time nurse, creating a room complete with computers, games, and couches where employees can bring a sick child or elder and care for them while working, and putting in an up-to-date air conditioning system to replace one from the 1930s.

John Berry, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said many of the reforms were accomplished through partnerships-partnerships with employees, other federal agencies and unions. In fact, most of the funding for Interior's quality-of-life projects have come from outside its budget: non-DOI funding sources account for $416,000 while the agency has spent $103,000 on major renovations so far.

Berry came to Interior in October 1997, and held the first of four "town meetings" in the agency's cafeteria for employees to speak out about quality-of-life issues. Two and a half hours and about 300 e-mails later, Berry had a long list of complaints and suggestions from employees ranging from putting new toilet paper in the bathrooms to revamping the cafeteria's menu.

An employee-led council worked with contractors on rennovating the cafeteria, choosing both the design and a menu which offers fare from seafood to Chinese. The General Services Administration contributed $20,000 to the project.

The improved health care center provides free and comprehensive check-ups for employees, including breast cancer and osteoporosis screenings, stress management seminars, and echocardiogram screenings. A private room allows mothers to pump breast milk for their newborns.

Other quality-of-life projects include:

  • Rooftop terrace: The agency upgraded its rooftop terrace so employees can enjoy a breathtaking view of the nation's capital.
  • Snack room: Employees can grab a post-lunch snack in the newly refurbished snack room.
  • Upgraded credit union: DOI contributed $19,000 to give the agency's credit union a make-over, while the credit union itself contributed $58,000.
  • DOI University: Through a partnership with local universities, employees can receive credit for their continuing education. A new training program teaches supervisors valuable leadership and management skills.

In a recent meeting, only three people spoke out, one of them a former skeptic who wanted to offer his thanks, Berry said.

For other federal managers interested in improving quality-of-life at their agencies, "convincing employees you care, listening, and making a real effort to deliver services to the workforce are most important," Berry said. He emphasized that providing a safe and happy work environment for employees is central to achieving the overall mission.

Berry's list isn't checked off yet. Employee transit subsidies are slated for October 2000, an office supply store operated by the blind and disabled will open in August, and an employee rest and relaxation room is also in the works.

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