Chief Information Officer

U.S. Department of Defense

Work and Life Balance

Research has consistently shown that the Net-Geners seek flexibility and a balance between their personal and professional life. Rather than “work/life balance,” Net-Geners see the world as needing “life/work balance.” They do not simply define themselves by where they work and what they do; that is just part of who they are.1 They tend to cultivate interests in many areas and their life roles are changing as well, with household responsibilities being more equally divided between the genders.2 Work is also becoming less compartmentalized. As discussed in Chapters 5 and 10, the lines between work and non-work activity are becoming blurred. This has import on the Net-Geners’ need to have a work environment that is engaging, collaborative, and fun.

FLEXIBLE WORKING HOURS

In a recent survey conducted by nGenera Insight, half of the Net Generation respondents felt that the availability of flexible work hours was critical when deciding to accept a job offer, as shown in Figure 11.1.3 Although this generation may be the most vocal about work/life balance, other workers are feeling an increased need for flexibility and work/life balance as well.

 

Net Generation 50%
Generation X 38%
Boomers 27%
   
Males 31%
Females 42%

Figure 11.1 Criticality of Flexible Work Hours to Accepting a Job
(Source: 2008 nGenera Insight Survey)


The increased number of women in the workplace has driven the need for more flexibility for family requirements. According to HR Review, almost two thirds of families with preschool children have mothers working outside the home; if a child is sick, most often it is the mother who is called at the workplace.4 There is also a growing demand for flexibility from employees needing time to take care of their own parents, as well as those sandwiched caretakers with generational care responsibilities at both ends of the spectrum. The Labor Project for Working Families conducted a survey in 2002 and found that 40% of family members caring for their parents and grandparents also had child-care responsibilities.5

Taken to its extreme, flexible work hours would mean allowing Net-Geners (and others) to take complete charge of their own work schedule, working wherever and whenever, as long as they delivered high quality results on time. While private industry is taking experimental steps in this direction, less than half of private companies currently offer any type of flexible work schedules. Thus, the Federal Government, with its authority to offer flexible schedules and telework, can be competitive in this work/life area. Currently, the Federal Government has four flexible work programs:

  • Flexible Work Schedules - Allows the employees to have a set work week, however, the reporting and departing times could fluctuate day-to-day.
  • Compressed Work Schedules - Allows working a schedule which consists of less than 10 workdays per pay period. Generally, the employee would work 9 or 10 hours a day.
  • Flexitour - Allows employees to schedule specific work hours based upon their personal circumstances.
  • Credit Hours - Used in lieu of paying overtime and more so used as compensatory time.

In 2005, Best Buy instituted an innovative work process that allowed employees at its corporate headquarters to work without a formal work schedule. The results, as studied by the University of Minnesota Flexible Work and Well Being Center, included improved work-family interface, improved health practices (more sleep, exercise, and energy), a greater intention to stay with the company and more job satisfaction. Best Buy itself noted that productivity among participants increased by more than 30%.7

The application of these flexibilities may vary from agency to agency, but those who allow flexible schedules can enhance their organization’s attractiveness to prospective Net-Gen employees. Additionally, although some opportunity may exist for job sharing in individual agencies, the focus of this guide is on the full-time Net-Gen employees. Agencies should not underestimate the value of flexible work schedules to new government employees. As shown in Figure 11.2, working a compressed schedule potentially triples the paid time off a Net-Gen employee, new to government service, can earn.

 

Less than 3 years in Govt Federal Holidays 10
Sick Leave 13
Vacation Days 13
Alt. Work Schedule 26
3 to <15 Years in Govt Federal Holidays 10
Sick Leave 13
Vacation Days 20
Alt. Work Schedule 26
15 Years or More in Govt Federal Holidays 10
Sick Leave 13
Vacation Days 26
Alt. Work Schedule 26

Figure 11.2 Federal Employee Days Off Based on Service Longevity in the Federal Government

FLEXIBLE WORKPLACE

Based upon improvements in technology and the digitalization of the work environment, employees no longer need to be physically situated in a traditional office during core working hours. Technology devices such as cellular phones, blackberries and other wireless devices allow employees the ability to work anywhere and anytime. While no one expects government employees will be authorized to text their work in from the ski slopes any time soon, even teleworking, the most structured version of a flexible workplace, has not caught on as much as it should within the Federal Government. In its most recent report to Congress on teleworking, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reported that for 2007, the number of federal teleworkers as a whole was down (with some of the decline atstributed to better data collection and some due to the Department of Defense’s continued wartime support and security concerns).8 Only 8% of eligible personnel were teleworking across the Federal Government.9 The top three barriers to telework cited by agencies were office coverage, management resistance, and organizational culture.10

Ultimately, managers will determine whether an employee’s duties can be performed outside the traditional work environment. However, if the manager promotes a more flexible and supportive work environment, more employees, particularly Net-Geners may be recruited and retained. A 2008 report from the Telework Exchange (www.teleworkexchange.com), a public-private partnership focused on telework in government, cited the two top drivers for federal workers to telework were reduced commuting time/costs and work/life balance.12 nGenera Insight also states that environmental issues are a key concern to Net-Geners who may want to telework.

Organizations should review the federal website, www.telework.gov, which addresses how to set up a telework program and provides training for both managers and employees on how to make the program work effectively. Additionally, they need to examine why barriers may exist within their organization. Understandably, managers may have concerns about information security, connectivity, and suitable infrastructure, however, these are challenges that can be addressed and generally, should not hinder an organization’s ability to establish a telework program.

Many agencies have successful established a telework program. Some standout agencies cited by OPM in its 2008 telework report included the Peace Corps and the Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration gets high marks through surveys conducted by the Telework Exchange.
The DoD’s Contract Management Agency (DCMA) has successfuly established a telework program that allows many of their employees to work remotely and reduced office footage while the U.S. Patent and Trade Office’s program reduced employee turnover.

The pressure to increase teleworking and compressed work schedule opportunities across the Federal Government will most likely increase, from both employees and the Congress. The Net-Geners will help drive the change by seeking employment at those organizations that allow them flexible work locations and schedules so they can have work/life balance. Congress will be interested in driving to a more efficient government; ensuring continuity of operations during natural disasters, pandemic health crises and other catastrophic unplanned events; and reducing dependence on foreign oil.

FLEXIBLE WORK ENVIRONMENT

Fun in the workplace is not a new concept. Searching online for “fun in the workplace” yielded over five million results and surveys at top-ranked organizations often include statements from employees about their organization being a fun place to work. The difference with the Net Generation is that it is one of their eight norms. They have elevated its importance, largely because they are less likely to compartmentalize work from other aspects of their life14 They may want to take a break in the middle of the day to get reinvigorated. They like to learn on the job. And, they are more adept at switching from work to play to work in their task orientation. Creating an environment that enables playfulness, creativity, and collaboration can improve morale, reduce employee absenteeism from the job, and ultimately reduce overall attrition.

 

"Chief Information Officers Council"
Washington, D.C.
ciocouncil.support@gsa.gov
April 2010