When it comes to the quality of worklife, as measured by employee pay, benefits, schedule flexibility, and working conditions, the federal government usually gets good marks. Uncle Sam is a family-friendly employer, offering plenty of options that help employees balance their life and work responsibilities. Flextime, part-time, leave-sharing, and unpaid family and medical leave are all available. Pilot projects in telecommuting allow some workers who travel long distances to work at locations closer to home.
The federal government would be smart to keep abreast of workplace trends. Our increasingly diverse workforce struggles to manage child care, elder care, family emergencies, and other personal commitments, while working conditions become ever more important. Recent studies suggest that our ability to recruit and retain the best employees--and motivate them to be productive--depends on our ability to create a satisfying work environment. Johnson & Johnson, for example, reported that its employees who used flextime and family leave were absent 50 percent fewer days than its regular workforce. Moreover, 71 percent of those workers using benefits said that the policies were "very important" to their decision to stay with the company, as compared to 58 percent of the employees overall. See Note 46
The federal government must maintain its "model employer" status and keep the workplace a humane and healthy place. It must also ensure that, as we move toward improving performance and begin to rely on every worker for valuable ideas, we create a workplace culture in which employees are trusted to do their best.
Even under current workplace policies, federal workers still encounter some problems. Many agencies do not fully advocate or implement flexible work policies. For example, only 53 percent of our employees with dependent care needs believe their agencies understand and support family issues, according to OPM. Thirty-eight percent indicated that their agencies do not provide the full range of dependent-care services available. As one example, OPM concluded that "...certain agencies may have internal barriers that make supervisors reluctant to approve employee requests to work part-time." See Note 48
The President should issue a directive requiring that all agencies adopt compressed/flexible time, part-time, and job-sharing work schedules. Agencies will also be asked to implement flexiplace and telecommuting policies, where appropriate. Starting next year, we will allow federal employees to use accrued sick leave to care for sick or elderly dependents or for adoptions. See Note 49 We will also give credit for all sick leave to employees who have been separated from and then rejoin federal employment, no matter how long they were out of government service.
Congress has written into law some barriers to improving the federal workplace. It should lift them. By January 1994, OPM will submit legislation to remove limitations on dependent-care programs and give agencies more authority to craft employee-friendly programs, such as employee benefit packages. By March 1994, OPM and GSA will propose legislation to enable flexiplace and telecommuting arrangements.
Finally, we urge Congress to reauthorize the Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act which expires October 31, 1993 with a few changes to improve program operations and allow interagency transfers of annual leave. Voluntary leave enables employees with family medical emergencies, who have exhausted all their available annual leave, to receive donated annual leave from their fellow federal workers. In just the last two years, voluntary leave served more than 23,000 federal employees with more than 3,742,600 hours of donated annual leave. The dependent-care needs of more than 96 percent of federal employees are met by the leave-sharing program. See Note 50
One of the things we learned... is that there's a strong correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. If your employees are unhappy and worried about the various baseline, basic needs, you know, of the quality of their work life, they won't worry about customers.
Rosetta Riley Director of Customer Satisfaction General Motors
In a productive workplace, where employees clearly understand their agency's mission, how they fit into it, and what they must accomplish to fulfill it, everyone is a professional. The work culture must send this message in every way possible. One easy way is to put an end--once and for all--to meaningless employee sign-ins and sign-outs on time sheets.
Many may consider this a trivial matter. But consider the salaried Health and Human Services (HHS) employee who must still sign in at a central location in her office every morning--and sign out exactly 81/2 hours later. She must do this no matter how many more hours she really works, and every employee in her branch must sign the same list, in order of appearance.
Occasionally, when she gets caught up in a meeting or lost in concentration at her desk, she forgets to sign the book at her appointed hour. Supervisors have "guided" her to avoid this problem. She tells her supervisor, who agrees that the practice is senseless, that it discourages her from working longer hours. "What about us overachievers?" she asks him. "You lose," he answers. The truth is, we all lose. Yet HHS continues to spend dollars training timekeepers. See Note 52
The Department of Labor, by contrast, listened to complaints from its employees about the needless paper-pushing and use of administrative time that repetitive timekeeping required. Under the leadership of Secretary Robert Reich, and with full backing of union presidents who represent department employees, Labor has begun to dump the standard time card. After realizing that nearly 14,000 of its 18,000 employees work a standard 40-hour week, department leaders decided to trust their workers to report only exceptions, such as overtime and sick and annual leave. Since only one third of Labor's workforce reports any exception in the average week, the department is already saving paper and time--and money. Standard time records are now submitted electronically, without bothering employees. See Note 56 [or is it See Note 53 ?- ses@sunsite]
The President should encourage all departments and agencies to follow the Department of Labor's lead. The new policy will allow for exceptions--for example, when labor contracts or matters of public safety require them. But if we truly seek the highest productivity from our workers, we must treat them like responsible adults. In today's work environment, time cards are a useless annoyance.
President Clinton launched his administration by appointing cabinet and senior officials who, in his words, "look like America." In doing so, he sent a clear message: A government that strives for the best must continue to break down stubborn barriers that too often keep us from employing, training, or promoting the best people.
While the President has set the stage, the current federal workforce does not reflect the nation's diverse working population. Overall, the federal government has yet to successfully eliminate some discriminatory barriers to attracting and retaining underrepresented groups at every civil service grade level, or advancing them into senior positions. A glass ceiling still hangs over the employment and career prospects for women, minorities and people with disabilities who work in the federal service. Women account for only 12 percent of the top tier of the federal employment ladder--the Senior Executive Service--and minorities, nine percent. See Note 55 Serious disparity persists for both in promotion rates to professional and administrative levels that serve as the gateway to further advancement. The numbers for Americans with disabilities are even worse.
Much can be done to make equal opportunity an integral part of each agency's mission and strategic plan. The President should issue a directive in 1993, committing the administration to attaining a diverse federal workforce and increasing the representation of qualified minorities, women, and people with disabilities at all career levels. The order should instruct agency heads to build equal employment opportunity and affirmative employment elements into their agency strategic plans and performance agreements. In turn, agency leaders should require managers and teams throughout their agencies to build the same goals into their own performance plans--and should publicly recognize those who succeed.