Reinventing Human Resource Management

Enable Employees to Manage Work and Family Responsibilities

HRM07: Enhance Programs to Provide Family-Friendly Workplaces


The federal government has traditionally been viewed as a family- friendly employer with many programs in place to help employees balance work and family responsibilities. The Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1978 gives agencies the authority to provide flexible and compressed work schedules for their employees.(1) The Federal Employees Part-time Career Employment Act of 1978 requires federal agencies to increase part-time opportunities for federal employees at all grade levels.(2) In 1990, Congress again tried to increase the availability of part-time employment for interested individuals by requiring the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a job sharing program.

The Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act of 1988 authorizes agencies to participate in voluntary pilot leave transfer and leave bank programs.(3) The federal government does not provide short-term disability benefits for its employees, except for job-related illness and injuries, so leave sharing helps employees maintain some or all income through a period of temporary disability or family medical crisis. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993(4) provides up to 12 administrative workweeks of unpaid family and medical leave for federal employees.(5)

In January 1990, the General Services Administration (GSA) and OPM implemented the Federal Flexible Workplace Pilot Project (Flexiplace) to gain experience and information from work-at-home programs, satellite work center programs, and flexiplace accommodations for disabled workers. Congress demonstrated continued support for the Flexiplace project in September 1992, when it appropriated $5 million to GSA to establish three telecommuting centers. The telecommuting centers will provide alternate worksites for federal employees who currently commute long distances between their homes and worksites in the Washington, D.C., area.

Need for Change

Changes in societal values and demographics indicate that family- friendly policies and workplaces will become increasingly critical for recruitment, retention, and improved productivity of employees. Family-friendly policies serve the needs of a diverse workforce struggling to manage child care, elder care, family emergencies, and other personal responsibilities while at the same time remaining committed to professional development and advancement. Governmentwide implementation of these policies will enable agencies to foster a quality work environment that meets the emerging needs of their employees and customers. The benefits of family-friendly policies are well documented:

Recent studies of such companies as Johnson & Johnson and American Telephone & Telegraph show that helping employees resolve work and family conflicts boosts morale and increases productivity. The J&J study found that absenteeism among employees who used flexible time and family-leave policies was on average 50% less than for the work force as a whole. It also found that 58% of the employees surveyed said such policies were very important in their decision to stay at the company--the number jumped to 71% among employees using the benefits.(6)

In 1991, the Conference Board concluded:

Flexitime improves basic work conditions by allowing adjustments in commuting times, reducing anxiety about tardiness, and shifting management's focus away from monitoring attendance. . . . [F]lexible work schedules increase employee responsibility, independence and growth potential, thus motivating the employee. . . . Flexitime was typically mentioned as the arrangement found most advantageous in reducing absenteeism and turnover.(7)

A federal employee writing to the National Performance Review stressed that part-time employment and job sharing is an important option for many federal employees.

Workers should be offered a chance to convert to part-time status whenever possible, if they think their finances will permit it, in order to have more time with young children or aging or infirm parents, or to attend to their own health problems, or to continue their education to stay abreast of changing technology. . . . Some individuals might want part-time work as an alternative or precursor to full retirement.(8)

The Progressive Policy Institute's Mandate for Change emphasized that the federal government should take a leadership role in flexiplace work arrangements, including telecommuting.

The federal government, which as one of the nation's largest employers led the way in the use of flex-time schedules, should begin to offer telecommuting options to qualified interested employees. In addition to the parenting advantages that telecommuting provides for families with small children, it offers economic and environmental advantages for society by reducing the number of commuters.(9)

Flexiplace and telecommuting reduce individual and family stress, save valuable commuting time, reduce commuting and work-related costs for the employee, and increase civic involvement and volunteerism in nearby communities. Flexible work arrangements will generate environmental and energy conservation benefits by alleviating traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, and reducing consumption of fossil fuels. Evaluation of the federal government's Flexiplace pilot found that vehicle usage decreased for 82 percent of participants during rush hour and 35 percent of participants during non-rush hour; sick leave usage decreased for 45 percent of participants.(10) The evaluation went on to say: "More than 90 percent of the supervisors and 95 percent of the participants judged that Flexiplace job performance was either unchanged or improved relative to pre- Flexiplace performance levels."(11)

OPM's final evaluation of the Flexiplace pilot concluded:

Flexiplace shows promise as a mechanism for reducing Federal operating and health care costs. Indications of improved job performance (productivity), reduced usage of sick leave (benefits), improved health (health care), and reduced vehicle usage (transportation/energy issues) for a significant portion of the participant group suggest long run reduction in costs associated with these areas.(12)

The evaluation found that the actual organizational costs of Flexiplace were minimal. More than 80 percent of supervisors reported no additional costs.(13) Significant monetary savings will occur as agencies begin to include flexible workplace arrangements in their federal building planning and technology purchasing strategies. "[W]e anticipate long run reductions in facility costs with expanded utilization of Flexiplace. The ability of agencies to implement successful Flexiplace pilots with minimal funding, however, is a strong indication of the applicability of Flexiplace to diverse organizations."(14)

The federal government should be viewed as a model employer in the availability and flexibility of quality of worklife programs that emphasize the tools employees at all levels need to manage their work responsibilities and personal lives more effectively.(15) Successful programs will foster interagency and intergovernmental partnerships, encourage cooperation between management and employees, spark collaborative ventures between public and private organizations, and bring harmony to the workplace and community in which they reside.

Some of the problems and barriers faced by agencies and employees include:

Legislative Barriers to Innovation. Federal agencies are stymied in their efforts to address emerging employee needs because most employee benefit policies are codified into law--literally requiring an act of Congress to modify them. Legislation bars most agencies from experimenting with different benefit policies; therefore, the governmentwide implications of options such as cafeteria benefit plans and flexible spending accounts are not known. In a 1992 report, the General Accounting Office stated:

The likelihood of federal agencies falling behind their nonfederal counterparts in the work/family area may be even greater in the future. The rapid growth of nonfederal work/family programs, such as flexible benefits, flexible spending accounts, and child care assistance, suggest that these programs could well become standard employment policies in the future. Thus, whereas the adoption of work/family programs today may give an employer a competitive advantage, in the future, employers may need to offer these programs just to avoid being at a competitive disadvantage.(16)

Legislative barriers prevent many agencies from implementing flexible work arrangements with their employees; some of the barriers for Flexiplace were waived for the duration of the pilot project when Congress passed legislation in November 1990.(17) Some examples of the limitations placed upon agencies attempting to provide dependent care services include a law that limits agencies to providing the facility and services related to the maintenance and operation of child care centers located solely in federally owned or leased space, and a September 31, 1992, decision of the U.S. Comptroller General that the law prohibits agencies from using appropriated funds for adult day care programs or contributing any financial resources to private adult day care centers.(18)

Lack of Clear Agency Support and Implementation of Available Programs. Many agencies have not developed policies advocating the use of flexibilities available to help employees balance work and family responsibilities. In a recent survey of federal employees conducted by OPM, only 53 percent of employees with dependent care needs believe their agencies understand and support family issues. Approximately 38 percent of employees indicated that their agencies do not provide any dependent care services beyond Employee Assistance Programs. Approximately 77 percent of employees with dependent care needs who are currently working fixed schedules are interested in working compressed/flexible schedules.(19) OPM found that:

[T]he employee survey data suggest that certain agencies may have internal barriers that make supervisors reluctant to approve employee requests to work part-time. Of the supervisors who have denied employee requests to work part-time, at least 19 percent did so because of internal barriers, i.e., the agency's internal systems made it difficult and/or that their agency stressed full-time employment.(20)


1. Implement family-friendly workplace practices while continuing to ensure accountability for quality customer service. (2)

The President should issue an Executive Order in summer 1994 advocating (a) adoption of compressed/flexible, part-time, and job sharing work schedules; and (b) implementation of flexiplace and telecommuting where appropriate.

2. Provide telecommunications and administrative support necessary for employees participating in flexiplace and telecommuting work arrangements. (3)

By fall 1994, OPM and GSA should submit proposed legislation to Congress repealing section 1348 of title 31, United States Code, "which prohibits federal agencies from paying for telephone installation and service in private residences with appropriated funds . . . installing residential phone lines to connect to the new [Federal Telecommunications System] FTS 2000 service [and] FTS 2000's fiber optic network which will carry a varied mix of voice, data, and video services on a single line . . . [and] purchasing a fax machine for installation in a private residence."(21) A temporary provision allowing agencies to use appropriated funds to pay for telephone installation and service in private residences was included in the fiscal year 1994 Treasury-Postal appropriations bill.

3. Expand the authority to establish and fund dependent care programs. (3)

By fall 1994, the director of OPM should submit proposed legislation to Congress removing statutory limitations on dependent care programs and giving agencies the authority to focus on the needs of their employees and develop programs that will enhance organizational effectiveness and improve employee productivity.(22)

Agencies should work with employees to develop the most effective and beneficial ways to meet the needs of a workforce struggling with the responsibilities of child care, elder care, and caring for ill family members. Agencies could decide to implement sliding fee payment schedules for dependent care, contribute financial resources to privately led consortia, allow reimbursement of dependent care expenses incurred as a result of emergency assignments or emergency travel, and/or permit employees to use official time to carry out responsibilities associated with membership on a federally sponsored center's board of directors.

4. Allow employees to use sick leave to care for dependents.(23) (1)

The director of OPM should issue regulations by spring 1994 that will allow employees to use accrued sick leave to care for sick or elderly dependents. OPM should also propose legislation that will allow employees to use accrued sick leave to make adoptive arrangements. The definition of child, spouse, and parent should be consistent with definitions contained in the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.

This policy indicates that the federal government recognizes the burden family illness places on employees and was recommended in part by the Merit Systems Protection Board in 1991.(24) The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in the private sector, 36 percent of employees can use sick leave to care for a sick child.(25) OPM found that in the public sector:

Forty-six State governments, whose sick leave accrual policies generally are more comparable to those of the federal government, allow use of sick leave for [family illnesses]. The State of New York, for example, implemented such a policy by regulation in 1957. New York State allows employees to use up to 15 days of sick leave each year in the event of family illness or death and reports that this benefit has not generated administrative problems or pressure to expand the circumstances under which sick leave may be used.(26)

5. Give returning employees credit for previously accrued unused federal sick leave. (1)

The director of OPM will issue regulations by spring 1994 that would recredit unused sick leave to employees who have been separated and subsequently reemployed by the federal government, regardless of the length of separation.

Current regulations recredit sick leave only if employees return to federal service within 3 years and do not take into account the changing needs of employees and the change in demographics since their implementation in 1962. Although only a relatively small number of employees are affected by the 3-year limitation, OPM found that "about 60 percent of all Federal employees who are reemployed after a break in service of more than 3 years are women, and about 65 percent are reemployed in grades GS-1 through 7."(27)

6. Expand the demonstration project authority to allow projects on employee benefits and leave.(28) (3)

By fall 1994, the director of OPM should submit proposed legislation to Congress removing the statutory limitations on employee benefits and leave in the demonstration project authority.(29) Removal of these limitations would authorize agencies to develop innovative projects that meet the needs of their employees while addressing the tax and revenue implications of flexible spending accounts, dependent care assistance programs, and cafeteria benefit plans. Agencies could also choose to combine sick leave and annual leave into a personal leave system or provide short-term disability coverage.

7. Reauthorize voluntary leave transfer/bank programs. (3)

Congress should reauthorize the Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act of 1988, which terminates October 31, 1993, with minor technical changes. This legislation is currently before Congress with minor technical changes to improve program operations, including a provision to eliminate the restriction that prohibits interagency transfers of annual leave between agencies covered by the leave transfer and leave bank programs.(30)

Voluntary leave transfer programs enable employees who experience a personal or family medical emergency and who exhaust all their available annual paid leave to receive donated annual leave from their fellow federal employees. Employees in voluntary leave bank programs make contributions of annual leave to their agency leave bank and can receive annual leave from their agency leave bank if they experience a personal or family medical emergency and have exhausted all their available paid leave. James King, Director of OPM, indicated that:

Agencies like the leave sharing program largely because it enables them to retain valuable employees throughout a personal or family emergency. Agencies have reported that this benefit far outweighs any hardship caused by employee absences. In many cases, employees who were leave recipients under the leave sharing program were able to work intermittently while participating in the program. Several agencies have experienced a decline in the number of employee requests for leave without pay and advanced leave as a result of leave sharing.(31)

During fiscal years 1991 and 1992, the program served more than 23,100 employees, and over 3,742,600 hours of annual leave were donated/used.(32) "More than 96 percent of Federal employees with dependent care needs are satisfied with the Federal leave sharing program," OPM reported.(33)

Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports

Department of Transportation, DOT13: Create and Evaluate Telecommuting Programs.


1. Title 5, United States Code, sec. 6120-6133.

2. Title 5, United States Code, sec. 3401-3408.

3. Public Law 100-566.

4. Public Law 103-3.

5. Title II of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 pertains to most federal employees covered by the annual and sick leave system established under chapter 63 of title 5, United States Code, and certain other employees covered by different federal leave systems. Title I covers non-federal employees and certain federal employees not covered by Title II.

6. Galen, Michele, Ann Therese Palmer, Alice Cuneo, and Mark Maremont, "Work & Family," Business Week, no. 3325 (June 28, 1993), p. 82.

7. Friedman, Dana, Linking Work-Family Issues to the Bottom Line (New York: The Conference Board, 1991), p. 51.

8. Letter from Marilyn S.G. Urwitz, federal employee, to President Bill Clinton, March 4, 1993.

9. Kamarck, Elaine Ciulla, and William A. Galston, "A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990s," in Will Marshall and Martin Schram, eds. Mandate for Change (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1993), p. 174.

10. U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), The Federal Flexible Workplace Pilot Project Work-at-Home Component (Washington, D.C., January 1993), p. v.

11. Ibid., pp. iii, iv.

12. Ibid., p. 45.

13. Ibid., p. 31.

14. Ibid., p. 32.

15. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Balancing Work Responsibilities and Family Needs: The Federal Civil Service Response (Washington, D.C., November 1991), p. 82.

16. U.S. General Accounting Office, The Changing Workforce: Comparison of Federal and Nonfederal Work/Family Programs and Approaches, GAO/GGD-92-84 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, April 1992), p. 15.

17. Public Law 101-509.

18. Title 40, United States Code, sec. 490(b).

19. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Report to Congress: A Study of the Work and Family Needs of the Federal Workforce (Washington, D.C., April 1992), pp. 5, 6, 20.

20. OPM, Report to Congress, p. 26.

21. President's Council on Management Improvement, "Guidelines for Pilot Flexible Workplace Arrangements," Washington, D.C., January 1990, p. 19.

22. Title 40, United States Code, sec. 490(b); and Title 18, United States Code, sec. 203(a).

23. Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, sec. 610.401.

24. MSPB, Balancing Work Responsibilities and Family Needs, p. 79.

25. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits in Medium and Large Private Establishments (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991), p. 16.

26. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, "Options for Leave Reform," Washington, D.C., September 1991, p. 5.

27. Ibid., p. 6.

28. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Federal Personnel Research Programs and Demonstration Projects: Catalysts for Change (Washington, D.C., December 1992), p. xi.

29. Title 5, United States Code, sec. 4703(c).

30. Title 5, United States Code, sec. 6373.

31. U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Subcommittee on Compensation and Employee Benefits, "Leave Sharing Programs in the Federal Government," testimony by Jim King, Director of OPM, May 13, 1993.

32. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Report to Congress on the Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act of 1988, Public Law 100-566 (Washington, D.C., April 30, 1993), p. 1.

33. OPM, Report to Congress, p. 35.

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