Lending Highest Level Leadership Support
Instead of seeing work-family programs only as an agreeable reward for good employees, federal managers are beginning to consider these programs to be central to the achievement of agency missions a concept effectively demonstrated by several recent research studies in the private sector.
First Tennessee Bank, for example, has done a cost-benefit analysis of work-life efforts that shows that family-friendly policies and programs help achieve customer goals within a supportive workplace culture. When managers are supportive, the study finds, customer service and customer relationships improve. DuPont uses 10 years of research to demonstrate that participants in work-life initiatives are the company's most committed employees. IBM research demonstrates that its highest performers stay with the company because of its work-life programs.
These studies, and many others, suggest that family-friendly workplace programs do not just benefit some few employees who encounter serious or tragic circumstances. Instead, these programs are an effective means to drive broad workplace change change that improves customer service, reduces cost, improves employee attitudes and effort, and supports recruitment and retention of the best and brightest employees.
Here in the federal sector, leaders of several agencies have stepped forward to demonstrate their personal support for family-friendly programs and to encourage similar support in others. These demonstrations of top-level leadership and involvement are paying off. The creation of a family-friendly workplace is a key management strategy that can evoke greater employee commitment, more discretionary effort, and higher productivity.
At the Department of Transportation, former Secretary Federico Pe¤a issued a challenge to all senior managers, asking that work-life program success be integrated into organization performance measures. He further challenged them to expand work-life initiatives wherever possible, defining them as "business imperatives and good management."
Attorney General Janet Reno expressed the work-life philosophy of the Department of Justice by saying, in part, that "work-life initiatives are an important beginning in helping employees find some balance between work and family needs." Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, in announcing her Department's major Quality of Work Life Initiative designed "to improve the quality of work life for all HHS employees," explained to employees that "we want you to hold us accountable for doing just that." The Department of State's leadership has expressed a similar level of commitment, making it clear that its work and family policy and program initiatives are "a long-distance event, not a sprint."
The Office of Personnel Management set up a Work and Family Program Center to provide leadership and assistance to other federal agencies and to support family-friendly programs governmentwide. The Center sponsors conferences, seminars, and exhibits; offers speakers; issues written guidelines and resource materials; and conducts promotional and educational events. Among its many publications are the Work and Family Kit, a compilation of the programs, policies, and practices available to agencies to help employees balance their work and family needs.
Additionally, Jim King, former Director of the Office of Personnel Management, established a now highly coveted annual award to honor those agencies that provide innovative and effective work and family programs throughout the government. The award was won this year by the Departments of Labor and Education and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Department of Defense has disseminated its extensive written response to the President's family-friendly workplace directive throughout the Department, supporting it with radio and TV spots and newspaper articles that reinforce the role leadership plays in ensuring a family-friendly workplace. The Department of Energy plans to do the same. It will distribute its report along with a highly positive policy statement encouraging top managers to review the report and adopt changes locally, based on best practices in the Department.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner wants to ensure that EPA's "Quality of Worklife" is among the best in the federal government. To this end, many regional offices have developed and issued their own family leave manuals and policies. Decisions pertaining to leave use and approval for various family-related and work issues have been delegated to the lowest level of authority to demonstrate the Agency's commitment to support staff in balancing work and family concerns.
Recommendation: Hold Leaders Accountable
Agency leaders should challenge their organizations in the same manner and with the same mechanisms they use to focus management attention on other key priorities that is, they should establish clear goals, set high expectations, and hold their line organization accountable for results. We must continue to exert strong leadership in this arena and to communicate the importance of balancing work and family needs. We must do this not only because it is good for families, but also because it is vital in building the strong organizations that can deliver the results our customers American taxpayers demand and deserve.