This is the first in a series of occasional guest posts by federal workers and others in the federal government community.
We’ve all heard the typical arguments for telework: better work-life balance, reduced traffic congestion, positive environmental impact and increased productivity due to fewer office-based interruptions.
While these factors make a compelling, mission-based case to Congress and key stakeholders responsible for promoting the adoption of telework, they really don’t matter to most frontline federal supervisors who continue to rebuff employee requests.
Here are two reasons why:
1. Managers say they are reluctant — for themselves and others. The Office of Personnel Management’s Status of Telework in the Federal Government report released in February 2011 revealed that “well over half of respondent supervisors (57 percent) and managers (57 percent) do not telework because of perceived barriers.” Moreover, “manager resistance continues to pose a barrier for many employees as suggested by the finding that over a quarter of respondents . . . were not permitted to telework, even though they have the kind of job that should allow telework.” Simply put, supervisors are squeamish.
Last week on GovLoop, an online community for government employees where I am the community manager, we asked public-sector professionals why they are not teleworking. The most common response: “My immediate supervisor will not allow us to telework even though my job is conducive to it” and “Our management doesn’t feel like we can be trusted to actually work when they don’t see us.” What’s even more telling is that every respondent to the discussion forum submitted anonymously for fear of supervisor or agency reprisal.
Despite this grim reality, I believe there is hope, given current demographic trends in government, as upwards of 60 to 70 percent of these supervisors are baby boomers within five to 10 years of retirement. My hope is not in the fact that they’ll be leaving soon, it’s that they might not leave completely.
Let me explain. In a course I teach on the impact of generational diversity on government, I ask participants to consider where they will be in 2020. Most of the audience members are typically baby boomers and are managers or supervisors. Typically, 80 percent of them are semi-retired.
The reality is that boomers don’t believe they’ll be able to fully retire. Some still have student loans to pay (for their debt-laden children) and others are caring for ailing, elderly parents. Others just don’t want to stop working.
So what does this have to do with telework and how does it help to convince federal supervisors that they should create a flexible, telework-friendly environment right now?
Forget the stats and facts. Appeal to their selfish, personal motives. The sooner that federal supervisors put into place programs and practices that promote teleworking, the better off they’ll be when they want to return as post-retirement, part-time contractors — but don’t want to travel to an office anymore.
Otherwise, the next generation of government leaders might respond in kind when those same managers come inquiring about opportunities to contribute remotely.