turning the Key
* "...the key to unlocking the enormous, unused, human potential of the federal workforce. Unlocking that potential will make everything else possible it is the only way."
Blair House Papers
- January 1997
pdfPDF Version

Table of Contents

Progress and Recommendations

  1. Helping Secure Safe, Affordable Quality Child Care
  2. Providing Elder Care Information and Referral Services
  3. Offering Flexible Hours
  4. Providing Opportunities for Telecommuting
  5. Promoting Involvement of Fathers in Children's Lives
  6. Listening to Employee Suggestions
  7. Lending Highest Level Leadership Support
Memorandum Expanding Family-Friendly Work Arrangements in the Executive Branch

Memorandum Implementing Federal Family-Friendly Work Arrangements


Turning the Key:
Unlocking Human Potential
in the Family in the Family-Friendly
Federal Workplace*

A Status Report on Federal Workplace
Family-Friendly Initiatives
to President Bill Clinton
Vice President Al Gore
September 1997

Mr. President:

Through personal leadership and inspiration, you have been driving a historic effort to encourage federal agencies to become more "family-friendly."

Your l994 and l996 directives to agency heads on the family-friendly federal workplace led agencies to review and improve their efforts to help employees balance and integrate work and family demands. Your signature on the Family and Medical Leave Act not only provided federal employees with additional flexibility in meeting their life needs but was a powerful signal of your determination to help all American families achieve a better balance of their many responsibilities. Your proposed expansion of that Act would furnish employees with valuable additional time off to meet important medical and educational needs.

This is critical because across the country, American workers are struggling to balance the demands of work and family, searching for ways to maintain a healthy family life and a satisfying and productive career. We now know that family-friendly initiatives, properly administered, not only result in stronger families, but in more efficient and effective workplaces and better service to our customers.

At a time when a great deal of attention has been given to the significance of this issue, I am presenting you with this update on where the federal government now stands in this important arena. It is clear from our review during the past year that the necessary policies and programs are in place. In fact, in many areas, the federal government can be truly proud of its leadership position and its role as a model employer.

For example, the federal government was well ahead of private sector employers in offering an array of highly flexible work schedules, starting as early as the l970s. It pioneered the use of leave sharing and leave banks, which help employees facing devastating illness or family emergencies obtain the time off they need, thanks to donations of paid leave from their co-workers. The quality and scope of our child care investments are another remarkable example of where we have shown leadership.

During the years ahead it will be important to build on these early successes.

Our first goal should be to achieve broader implementation of existing policies. We should do this at a level that will benefit significantly more employees: not only at headquarters but in the field, not only in some parts of agencies but throughout, not only to meet critical emergency situations but to help all employees manage the everyday stresses of contemporary life.

Second, we need to ensure access by all federal workers to innovative and supportive new strategies that have been generated in certain agencies and departments, whether those workers are in headquarters or the field, and whether they are high or low on the pay scale. We must work hard to be sure that the opportunities these strategies provide are widely available and be alert to the opportunity to expand and amplify these efforts wherever possible.

Third, we should strive for a dramatic change in workplace culture. As we are learning in the private sector, it is important to increase support and recognition for people's lives outside of work, demonstrate respect for their unique contributions and needs, achieve better relationships with their supervisors, and foster an environment that emphasizes trust and caring. Many substantive research efforts have recently documented the fact that these factors combined with open and honest communications can have far more impact than specific programs in inspiring employee commitment, productivity, and creativity.

As you said at last year's Family Re-Union Conference: Families and Work, "We can set up a framework within government . . . pass laws, have regulations . . . but in the end, it's the culture of America that has to change," if we are to have stronger children, stronger families, and a stronger economy.

The same is true in the federal community. We are learning to foster an environment that can truly change the culture of our workplaces and raise the spirit of the workforce, as called for in Blair House Papers. While the current climate of cost reduction and downsizing might seem to make this effort more challenging, I believe that systemic implementation of family-friendly policies can help us achieve our broader reinvention goals.

The report that follows offers greater detail on agency efforts, with examples of specific accomplishments. It highlights some of the cutting-edge, innovative approaches federal agencies are taking. We need to broaden the use of these approaches throughout the federal government. We also need to enhance and, in some cases, move beyond our present approaches to the family-friendly workplace. My specific recommendations, outlined more fully in this report, are as follows:

  1. Federal child care should be not only an example of quality, but a model of accessibility and affordability. We should make child care more affordable.
  2. Elder care increasingly affects federal workers, just as it does the entire American workforce. We should heighten awareness and availability of elder care programs.
  3. Alternative or compressed work schedules mean more time and more flexibility to be with families. We should increase employee use of flexible hours.
  4. If an employee can produce as efficiently offsite as on, we can and should support flexibility regarding where work is done. We should greatly expand the number of federal workers who telecommute.
  5. Through our employee and mission programs, we can strengthen American fatherhood. We should encourage men in their role as fathers.
  6. We must make sure that the programs and policies we introduce are in fact ones that employees want and will use. We should promote employee feedback.
  7. Family-friendly programs can only succeed with top-level support. We should hold leaders and their organizations accountable.
All of this will take continued leadership by this Administration. Only when federal workers believe that their family life is supported by their top agency leaders can they be most effective. Only when senior management sets high expectations can these family-friendly practices become reality for all federal workers.

Mr. President, if we do all of these things and do them well I am confident we will have moved the federal workplace toward the goal you have held out before us since early l994; we will have created a federal workplace that is friendly to families. At the same time, our employees will see it as a great place to work, and the American people will respect it as an effective place with which to do business.

Al Gore

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