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New Guidance Helps Agencies Assess the Value of Work-Life Balance Programs

The federal government is looking to quantify the costs and benefits of programs such as telework. 

The Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday released guidance on how agencies can quantify the benefits of programs that help federal employees achieve a work-life balance, such as telework and health and wellness initiatives. 

“Agencies must identify measurable ways to show how these programs can reduce current and future labor costs, while improving mission and service delivery,” the guidance said. It noted that agency evaluations of work-life programs have “historically been unsystematic and based primarily on anecdotal evidence and/or the desire to ‘do the right thing,’ which impacts the agency’s ability to make effective, data-informed decisions on how to efficiently invest in work-life efforts.”

The guidance outlined strategies and methods to measure qualitiatively and quantitiavely the results of work-life programs, including job sharing, seminars, on-site health clinic and exercise facilities, phased retirement, flexible spending accounts and federal child care as well as telework. Methods of evaluation discussed are: demographics, retention rates, program usage rates, performance ratings, employee surveys, case studies and employee town halls. 

Several agencies have already been successful with such program evaluation.

One example the guidance cited was the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s telework pilot program launched in 2012, which helped the agency recruit and retain a better workforce while also lowering costs. An annual report with data collected quarterly via employee satisfaction surveys, volume of work produced, transit subsidies as well as a cost/benefit analysis demonstrated the program’s success.  

In another example, the National Institutes of Health had an outside consulting group complete a benchmark study to measure the results of a backup childcare pilot program to help working parents for when their regular coverage is unavailable. The consultants compared the results of this study to the results of the same study done in 2008, services of other agencies and the original benchmark to see if goals were achieved. 

The guidance called work-life programs “vital” as they affect “recruitment, retention, performance and employee engagement” and are aligned with the President’s Management Agenda, which outlines the administration's long-term plan to modernize the federal government. 

Maintaining a work-life balance is a constant struggle for federal employees. Eighty-three percent of employees in a 2017 federal survey conducted by OPM reported they have a conflict between their professional and personal needs. Telework has become a remedy to alleviate some of the burdens. The survey found high rates of satisfaction and performance among the 76% of federal employees who telework. 

However, there has been a recent disconnect regarding telework policy between some agencies and the Office of Personnel Management. While an Office of Personnel Management report encourages agencies to foster telework policies–that President Obama expanded for federal employees by signing the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act–departments such as Interior, Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services have cut back their accommodations recently.  

An OPM spokesperson told Government Executive that the guidance is intended to “assist agencies on developing strategies to take advantage of existing data sources and/or develop approaches to assess costs of work life programs, including telework. The guidance, provided by OPM, will enhance agencies’ accountability in meeting their goals and mission, and determine the true value of their telework and other work-life programs.”

Still, it will be up to individual agencies to make decisions about programs such as telework that they feel will be in their best interest, the spokesperson said. 

The guidance recommended that going forward agencies reassess their work-life programs to make sure they fit the goals of the agency and employee needs. It suggested completing reviews at the top levels as well as sub-entities of the agencies to get a comprehensive overview.