Programs to help federal employees better balance their work and personal lives are yielding benefits to both those workers and their agencies including higher performance, job satisfaction and commitment to stay with the government, a government-wide survey has found.
More employees want to participate in programs such as telework and flexible working schedules, but resistance from agency management remains a barrier, added a new report on the survey, sent to a sample of federal employees in early 2017.
Of the more than 64,000 who responded, 83 percent reported that their professional and personal and/or family life needs interfere with each other at least to some degree. Although employees who participate in programs to ease such stress are satisfied with them overall, “having programs or policies does not necessarily ensure a culture of strong work-life support that is conducive to the needs of employees,” the Office of Personnel Management said in what it called a first-of-its-kind study.
Thirty-five percent of employees telework and 54 percent have flexible work schedules, and each program “improved their performance, morale, and increased their intent to stay at their current agency” for 75 percent or more of them.
For example, 79 percent of teleworkers and 75 percent of those with flexible work schedules reported being satisfied with their jobs, compared with 68 and 69 percent of others. Teleworkers also “were significantly more likely to receive a rating of ‘exceeds fully successful’ or higher on their last performance appraisal than non-participants,” it said — 76 to 72 percent. Performance ratings were about the same in use of flexible work schedules, though.
Top benefits cited by teleworkers include minimizing distractions, improving their productivity and avoiding commuting.
“Furthermore, employees who participated in any work-life program, including employee assistance programs and family and dependent care programs, reported they were able to better manage stress and experienced improve health,” the report said.
The survey also revealed a pent-up demand for more. For example, 58 percent of respondents said they want to telework vs. the 35 percent who do, and 83 percent want to have flexible work schedules, vs. the 54 percent who have them.
However, the survey also “showed significant percentages of respondents perceived a lack of leadership support and awareness of work-life programs — suggesting these areas constitute primary barriers inhibiting participation in various work-life programs and workplace flexibilities,” the OPM report said.
Of those who don’t telework, the main reason was that the job requires them to be physically present, but 12 percent said they were not approved even though their job would allow it. Also, about a third of respondents said they have little or no flexibility to rearrange their work schedules to handle personal or family matters.
Employees find agency management more sympathetic than helpful. Although 66 percent said that their immediate supervisor understands their personal or family needs, only 46 percent said their supervisor supports work-life balance programs to help with them — and only 35 percent said that senior leadership provides such support.
Possible reasons for that difference, the report said, include that “supervisors may lack awareness and understanding of agency-specific work-life programs and how work-life programs can be utilized to simultaneously meet the agency’s strategic goals while supporting employees’ work-life needs.”
“Creating an organizational culture that supports work-life effectiveness requires raising awareness on the use of work-life programs, change management, adopting new approaches to management education, training, and leadership role modeling,” it said.