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OPM Promotes Work-Life Balance, Retirements Decline, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday marked National Work and Family Month by highlighting programs across the federal government that aim to help staff strike the right work-life balance.

In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Dale Cabaniss said that agencies should make use of available work-life programs to improve employee engagement and, ultimately, deliver on President Trump’s management agenda.

“OPM identified work-life supports as one of the major drivers of employee engagement,” Cabaniss wrote. “When employees know their overall well-being is highly valued by their employer, they are more likely to feel and exhibit a sense of commitment to the organization. Work-life supports may range from promoting workplace flexibilities that allow employees to balance work and other life responsibilities, to offering back-up dependent care services, which may help ease caregiving burdens and allow employees to remain focused.”

Cabaniss said that over the course of the next year, OPM will provide agencies with guidance about “emerging work-life trends” and support initiatives to improve health and wellness, family care, telework and other programs.

But so far during the Trump administration, federal agencies have paid little attention to OPM’s efforts to promote such programs, particularly telework. Although experts and OPM have repeatedly shown a link between increased telework and higher morale and productivity, a number of agencies, including the Agriculture and Education departments, have drastically cut back opportunities for employees to work remotely.

On Monday, OPM reported that it had made slight progress in reducing the backlog of retirement applications last month, cutting the total inventory of pending requests by 200.

In September, 7,456 federal employees filed for retirement, a significant decrease from the 8,878 requests OPM received in August. The agency processed 7,656 requests last month, compared with 9,715 processed in August. Overall, the retirement backlog fell from 17,576 in August to 17,376 last month.

Overall, the number of federal workers filing for retirement fell slightly in fiscal 2019. Between October 2017 and September 2018, 105,298 employees made retirement requests. But between October 2018 and last month, only 103,813 employees filed for retirement, a decrease of 1.4%.

The 2018 fiscal year saw a significant increase of 24.1% in the number of federal workers filing for retirement, spurring fears that the long-feared retirement wave may have begun.

On the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled a plan last week for improving the rights of federal workers, which, among other things, would guarantee federal employees would continue to be paid on time during government shutdowns.

Following the end of the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year, lawmakers passed legislation that would automatically provide back pay to all federal workers, regardless of whether they are furloughed or forced to work without pay during a lapse in appropriations, once agencies reopen.

Warren said her plan would provide pay continuity regardless of whether the government is open: “I will also fight to ensure that federal workers are paid continuously during government shutdowns rather than facing furloughs and no-pay status,” she said.