Feds in Work-Life Programs Perform Better at Their Jobs, Survey Says

Although most feds give flexibilities high marks, some managers struggle with evaluation of remote workers.

Federal employees who are part of programs designed to preserve a better work-life balance are more likely to exceed expectations and better advance their agency’s mission, a recent report concluded.

The Office of Personnel Management’s first Federal Work-Life Survey, released last week, evaluated a number of agency work-life programs, including telework, flexible work schedules, employee assistance programs, family and dependent care, and health and wellness.

According to the report, which includes the input of 64,474 federal employees, 35 percent of respondents said they engage in telework in some form. Of those, 76 percent said the arrangement increased their desire to stay at their agency, while 72 percent said it led to increased performance.

On the other hand, although 62 percent of federal employees reported that they participated in agency-provided physical activity programs at least once per week, only 41 percent said wellness programs increased their desire to stay at their agency, while 43 percent said the programs improved their performance.

Fully 96 percent of respondents said they wanted to make use of at least one of the federal government’s work-life programs, and they stressed the importance of agencies offering a variety of programs that cater to the specific needs of employees.

Then-acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan noted in a letter to agencies accompanying the report that although federal employees appreciate work-life programs, there still may be a stigma within organizations against feds who choose to make use of them.

“The majority of employees (82 percent) perceive their immediate supervisor as responsive to and understanding of employees’ personal needs,” she wrote. “However, only about half of employees (47 percent) indicate they experience positive supervisory support for the use of work-life programs.”

Similarly, managers told surveyors that although they recognize the benefits of programs like telework, they could use additional training to better manage people who work remotely.

“Both non-supervisors and supervisors identify ‘minimizing distractions’ and ‘maximizing productivity’ as the most important reasons they telework,” McGettigan wrote. However, only half (53 percent) of supervisors agree that telework supports their employees’ ability to perform work. This may be due to the fact that only 48 percent of supervisors reported being able to manage and assess the performance of teleworkers.”

OPM said it will use the results of the survey to improve the quality of work-life programs, particularly by providing managers with additional tools to help manage employees’ success.

Among the agency’s “next steps” are: Creating a toolkit for supervisors and agency leadership; developing information for work-life coordinators on how to develop, implement and evaluate programs using metrics; and highlighting and sharing work-life program best practices across agencies.

OPM also encouraged federal agencies to find additional ways to “improve culture and organizational support for the expanded application” of work-life programs, and to identify agency leaders who can help to plan and link these programs with a department’s mission.

Although work-life programs like teleworking arrangements have become more prevalent in recent years, some agencies have cooled to the idea in recent months. The Agriculture Department recently significantly scaled back its telework offerings, shifting from effectively limitless telework to only two days per pay period—or roughly once a week.