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    Workplace Flexibilities

    Image of people and buildings representing worklife balance

    Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has been committed to promoting a workplace culture for the 21st century that will support the Federal Government’s ability to attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce by expanding the use of workplace flexibilities and work-life programs. Among several requirements, the President directed OPM to educate agencies on the various workplace flexibilities and work-life resources available.

    To support the President’s initiative, we are pleased to announce a new 90-minute online course called “Introduction to Leave, Work-Life, and Workplace Flexibilities” that is available at no cost through OPM’s HR University. Its goal is to provide Federal employees and managers with a comprehensive overview of flexible workplace benefits and how to access them. This new course is being introduced during National Women’s History Month (WHM). The theme of this year’s WHM is honoring women in public service and government. OPM works with agencies across government to help recruit, develop, and retain the talent they need - including women - to deliver on our missions for the American people.

    Today, OPM and IMPACT, the agency’s women’s employee resource group, sponsored a program entitled “Federal Women Lead.” During this panel discussion, senior Federal women leaders shared their career journeys and talked about the importance work-life flexibilities have played in their success.

    OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert, who spent 29 years as a consultant and partner in the private sector before joining Federal service, recalled how she was one of the first consultants at that firm to work part time.

    “Workplace flexibilities have been important to me in my career. My husband and I had demanding jobs when our children were born. I was a consultant at a private global management company, a job which involved long hours and considerable travel. Back then, working part time and other flexibilities to help balance work and family life were not in place in many workplaces, including mine. But I asked to shift to a part-time schedule, and the leadership in my office was willing to give it a try. It turned out to be good for me, for my firm, and our clients – and working part-time is now an option for others,” Cobert said.

    Workplace flexibilities provide a benefit to both Federal employees and our customers – the American people. OPM’s course helps to promote a culture in which employees and managers are able to more effectively use the various workplace flexibilities and work-life programs available. Allowing employees to use these flexibilities improve agency productivity, employee engagement and provides better service for our customers.


    Graphic for with photo of vegetables that reads: 2016 National Nutrition Month, Celebrating Healthy Eating

    There’s no better time for Federal employees to focus on healthy eating goals than during National Nutrition Month. The Federal Government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides nutrition advice and tips on how Americans can eat healthy while still enjoying food that meets their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and that fit within their budget. Choosing nutritious foods can help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and maintain a healthy body weight.

    This month, you may see an increased focus on nutrition. Throughout the year workplaces across the Federal government encourage employees to make informed decisions about their food choices. To support Federal agencies in developing and maintaining effective nutrition programs, OPM hosted a webinar training that highlighted agency best practices. We also conducted a government-wide assessment of their workplace health and wellness programs called WellCheck, which helps agencies determine the effectiveness of their health and wellness programs.

    OPM also supports and maintains the Federal Work-Life Community of Practice (CoP) which helps work-life coordinators learn from other Federal agencies, collaborate with colleagues across government, and take advantage of cost-saving opportunities.

    Some examples of evidence-based strategies that agencies are implementing to support healthy eating include:

    • The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) "Cafe Wellness Tours," which gives employees the opportunity to identify better choices, sample healthy options, ask questions, and learn how to customize meals to meet their dietary needs. NIH also offers a variety of local options including: "Meatless Monday" specials; calorie labeling on digital menu boards, and identifying healthier menu choices with symbols. NIH's environmental supports for nutrition are one piece of their robust and comprehensive workplace health and wellness program.
    • The Department of Transportation (DOT) issues weekly nutrition tips through an opt-in employee listserv. It also provides lunch-time seminars on nutrition topics, such as understanding food labels. DOT continues to explore ways to strengthen its nutrition program and health awareness outreach by strategically partnering with its Employee Assistance Program, health clinic, fitness center, and external health services providers.
    • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hosts a series of in-person and virtual webinars that address the benefits of healthy eating. FEMA also partners with vendors to ensure healthful food and beverage options are available in snack machines. FEMA also encourages employees to make healthier choices available during meetings or team gatherings when food is served.

    These efforts, and many others across the Federal government, support the Presidential Memorandum on Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs, the National Prevention Strategy, and the Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations.

    For information about how to choose a healthy eating pattern and enjoyable diet, review the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

    Most importantly, we care about the health of Federal employees. Living a healthy lifestyle can help you be your best at home, work, and in your community. We hope you will take a few minutes to examine your eating habits this month and rejuvenate your health goals -- one bite at a time.


    In his memorandum for modernizing Federal leave, the President wrote, “Men and women both need time to care for their families and should have access to workplace flexibilities that help them succeed at work and at home.  Offering family leave and other workplace flexibilities to parents can help achieve the goals of recruiting and retaining talent, lowering costly worker turnover, increasing employee engagement, boosting employee morale, and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

    This week, as President Obama continues his conversations with working families across the country, OPM is proud to release a new online handbook that gives Federal employees the information they need to take advantage of the government’s many leave policies related to having a baby, adopting, or becoming foster parents.

    Our Handbook on Leave and Workplace Flexibilities for Childbirth, Adoption and Foster Care provides scenarios and tips to give employees realistic and specific examples about how these policies can and should be applied. It was developed with the help of representatives from more than 40 Federal agencies, and it is an important milestone in achieving the President’s vision for Federal working families.

    Federal employees will be familiar with many of our leave policies. New mothers and fathers may take at least six to eight weeks of sick leave, followed by additional time to bond with their child through annual leave or the Family Medical Leave Act. The FMLA guarantees that Federal employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a year of the birth or adoption of a child so that new parents can have extra time with their families. I’m also proud that our government recognizes the same needs for adoptive parents, foster families, and same-sex couples.  

    Our handbook also provides information about less well-known options. For example, employees can use FMLA intermittently – say, one day a week for 12 months – rather than using 12 weeks all at once. Some offices are able to offer adjusted work schedules, with flexible start and end times. For families who need some extra time at home, the perfect solution may be to switch to a part-time schedule.

    The handbook shares explanations of all of these types of workplace flexibilities, and more. It has definitions and details about each type of leave, and it also has specific examples of how a Federal worker might combine different types of leave in a way that makes the most sense for his or her family. Our goal is to make our policies and regulations are as clear -- and flexible -- as possible for every employee and his or her supervisor.

    To attract and retain a talented, engaged, and productive workforce, the Federal Government must ensure that employees are provided every opportunity to use workplace flexibilities that will enable them to thrive both at work and at home. We hope that this handbook will help move us toward our goal of fully supporting and empowering working parents in their roles both as Federal employees and parents.

    Logo for Workplace Flexibilities Handbook for Working Families


    As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to highlight OPM’s commitment to ensuring that all women -- and men -- are offered the flexibilities they need to be productive, satisfied members of the Federal workforce. OPM encourages agencies to help their employees balance the needs of their lives inside and outside of work.

    In January, the President signed a memorandum titled, Modernizing Federal Leave Policies for Childbirth, Adoption, and Foster Care to Recruit and Retain Talent and Improve Productivity.  It directs agencies to advance Federal workers up to six weeks paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family member. In his State of the Union address, the President also called on Congress to enact legislation to provide Federal workers with up to six weeks of paid parental leave.

    The President’s memorandum builds on this past June’s White House Summit on Working Families, an event that explored a variety of issues important to working families, including workplace flexibility. OPM is contributing to these efforts by developing a handbook on Leave for Pregnancy, Childbirth, Adoption, and Foster Care. I believe it is important for Federal employees and their managers to fully understand our policies related to family life events. We do not want women to feel that they must choose between their responsibilities to their family and their obligations to their careers.

    To develop the handbook, we are partnering with Federal agencies to gather information on existing workplace flexibilities and work-life programs. OPM is asking agency leave experts to identify common questions and misconceptions. This summer, we will analyze the data we receive and send a report to the President. This document will describe best practices, barriers, and limitations in achieving work-life balance. It also will suggest possible solutions to roadblocks that working families encounter.

    OPM has long had in place policies that make it easier for women to meet their full career potential. We’ve created flexible work schedules, expanded sick leave to include caring for family members who are ill, developed telework policies, and come closer to eliminating the gender pay gap.

    Sensible workplace polices like these are an integral part of OPM’s Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion – or REDI – roadmap. REDI provides agencies with the tools to attract, hire, promote, and retain top talent for the Federal government and build a model workforce now, and the future.

    Our work-life policies are continually evolving to make the balance of caring for families and pursuing a career complementary, rather than contradictory. The women who have come before us have set an incredible example of dedicated Federal service. We hope to honor their contributions by doing all that we can to meet the needs of women today.

    Director Archuleta meets with women in Tampa, Florida.


    As we begin this year’s Labor Day celebration, I want to take a minute to thank each and every member of our Federal family for your hard work and for the excellent service you provide the American people. One way for us to honor your efforts is to make sure you have the flexibilities you need to help balance your life at work and at home.

    From the moment he took office, President Obama has promoted and supported the kind of flexible benefits that will help us recruit, empower and retain a world class Federal workforce. During the historic White House summit on Working Families on June 23, the President signed a memorandum outlining his vision for such a workplace culture.

    OPM recently issued guidance to Federal agencies to make sure that we deliver on the President’s vision.

    Workplace flexibilities go beyond the traditional annual leave, sick leave and family and medical leave. Working with their supervisors, Federal employees have the right to request alternative work schedules, job-sharing, telework, part-time work and leave transfer programs.

    Our memorandum reminds agencies that they “must not create arbitrary and unnecessary barriers” that would keep employees from asking to take advantage of workplace flexibilities. And I will be asking agencies to report to me about what best practices they are using to create a culture and workplace environment that supports the use of these programs. I also want agencies to report any barriers that may unnecessarily restrict the use of these flexibilities so we can work together to remove obstacles.

    The bottom line is, I don’t want Federal employees to worry about retaliation when they seek work schedule flexibilities. And we want to make sure agencies have the procedures and policies in place to create a culture that allows employees to feel comfortable making requests.

    We talk a lot here about employee morale and how to best create a workplace where employees feel engaged and appreciated. What better way for us to show our appreciation for the incredible work our 2 million-strong, talented workforce does than to be sensitive to the tug employees often feel between their desire to do their jobs and the need to take care of a family situation or emergency.

    What’s more, these flexibilities are not just good for employees. I know that if you believe, when a family emergency comes up, that your manager will bend over backwards to accommodate you, you will go the extra mile when a critical situation arises at work.

    We are one Federal family. We need to look out for each other, help each other and trust each other to do the best for the American people we serve.

    Enjoy your well-deserved Labor Day holiday!


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