Federal Work/Life Programs:

Agencies Generally Satisfied with OPM Assistance, but More Tracking and Information Sharing Needed

GAO-11-137: Published: Dec 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2010.

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To improve its ability to recruit and retain federal employees, agencies have implemented a wide range of work/life programs, such as flexible work schedules, child care, and employee assistance programs. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) plays a key role in guiding federal human capital initiatives, including the implementation of work/life programs. As requested, GAO determined the extent to which: (1) OPM provides assistance and guidance to federal agencies for establishing and enhancing work/life programs; (2) OPM or the federal agencies track, evaluate, or modify work/life programs; and (3) OPM has identified leading practices in the private sector for the implementation of work/life programs and shared this information with federal agencies. To do this, GAO reviewed OPM policy and guidance; surveyed 40 federal officials--20 Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) and 20 work/life managers; and interviewed officials from seven private sector companies recognized for the quality of their work/life programs.

OPM's Office of Work/Life/Wellness is available to federal agencies to provide assistance, guidance, and information as agencies develop and implement work/life programs. For example, OPM has established formal working groups, sponsored training for agency officials, promulgated regulations to implement work/life programs, and provided informal guidance to agencies that address issues related to these programs. Of the 33 agency officials who responded to GAO's survey, 24 indicated that OPM's assistance, guidance, and information sharing greatly helped or helped somewhat in implementing work/life programs. Another six agency officials indicated that OPM's assistance, guidance, and information sharing helped in some cases and hindered in others. OPM tracks and collects information on a few work/life programs across the federal government, including health and wellness programs which it recently began tracking in response to a White House initiative. Some federal agencies independently provide OPM with evaluations on other work/life programs. However, when asked, OPM officials said that they did not track or maintain an inventory of these evaluations nor review these evaluations due to the lack of time and available resources. Tracking, analyzing, and sharing information among federal agencies on the effect of work/life programs on agency-intended goals could be helpful for individual agency decision making in a budget-constrained environment. To follow up on the White House health and wellness initiative, OPM held several meetings and conferences with representatives from private sector companies to discuss their health and wellness programs and the effect of these programs on recruitment and retention. Although OPM has developed a health and wellness pilot program based on some of the information obtained from these meetings and conferences, OPM has not systematically shared with federal agencies other information about the private sector's health and wellness programs or other work/life programs. GAO also interviewed officials from seven private sector companies recognized for the quality of their work/life programs to identify leading practices in implementing private sector work/life programs. Private sector officials from four of the seven companies that GAO interviewed indicated that their programs have been effective in increasing employee job satisfaction, resulting in improved recruitment, retention, and workforce productivity. Systematically collecting and disseminating information on the implementation and evaluation of private sector work/life programs could help federal agencies compare their work/life programs with leading practices in the private sector. GAO recommends that OPM assist agencies in implementing their work/life programs by more systematically tracking and evaluating data on the implementation and evaluation of work/life programs and sharing this information with federal agencies. OPM agreed with GAO's recommendations and suggested technical changes which GAO has incorporated as appropriate.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM, working with the CHCO Council, shoul identify the resources, steps, and timetable necessary to track on a more systematic basis information already being collected by individual federal agencies on their work/life programs, such as program usage data and evaluations.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM agrees that collecting and sharing information collected from federal agencies on the operations of their work/life programs would be beneficial. OPM routinely uses work/life coordinator meetings, Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) training academy, and similar venues to highlight promising practices from both the private and public sectors. However,OPM recognizes the limitations of disseminating this information primarily to presenters and participants at these events. In response to our recommendation, OPM now requires agencies to develop action plans based on data collected from the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey. In addition, on July 18, 2012, OPM created an online Federal Work-Life Community of Practice allowing federal agencies to share information on the various work-life programs such as dependent care. It also features: a discussion forum, library of resources and research articles, events calendar, and OPM announcements and memoranda related to work/life programs. It is accessible to all federal agencies via the OMB MAX web site. These combined efforts by OPM will address and implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM, working with the CHCO Council, should identify the resources, steps, and timetable necessary to evaluate the results of work/life program surveys conducted by leading private sector organizations, as stated in OPM's 2010-2015 strategic plan, that could help federal agencies as they implement their work/life programs.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM officials agree that federal agencies benefit from using public and private sector best practices to develop and implement its work/life programs. However, OPM officials contend that motivation and culture differ enough between the private and public sectors so that a direct comparison may not always result in a comprehensive set of ready-to-use solutions. OPM agrees that federal agencies benefit from examining a variety of perspectives on work/life issues and programs. These include OPM's long-standing association with organizations such as World at Work, National Business Group on Health, Telework Exchange, Families and Work Institute, the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, and others. Many of these organizations offer research data on a variety of work/life programs; survey and study results, draft white papers; articles; and other information. While not always specifically applicable to the federal work environment, this information provides general trends in work/life that could be useful to federal work/life representatives in developing their programs. OPM works with these organizations and identifies useful data from the private sector, while exercising caution to avoid the appearance of endorsing specific leading practices from any given organization. In response to our recommendation on July 18, 2012, OPM notified federal agencies of the availability of the Federal Work-Life Community of Practice, which is an online venue for agencies to share information on various work-life programs such as dependent care. This online venue addresses our recommendation by including a discussion forum and a library of resources and research articles which includes information about private sector practices that may be applicable to the federal agencies. These combined efforts by OPM will address and implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM, working with the CHCO Council, should identify the resources, steps, and timetable necessary to provide the information from both the public and private sectors, including other comprehensive evaluations produced by academic institutions, state entities, and other organizations, to agency officials--through available avenues such as the CHCO Council and federal executive boards--that could help them address work/life program issues and determine if the work/life programs are meeting their agencies' goals.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM's Office of Work/Life/Wellness works with Federal Executive Boards and the CHCO Council to provide federal agencies with more information from both the public and private sectors about the development and implementation of work/life programs. Additionally, on July 18, 2012, OPM notified federal agencies of the creation of its online Federal Work-Life Community of Practice. Specifically, this website provides agencies information on a regular and timely basis on how to implement work/life programs, foster leadership support, and promote collaboration among the agencies. These combined efforts by OPM will address and implement this recommendation.

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