GAO evaluates agencies' work-life programs

Monday - 12/20/2010, 9:41am EST

Yvonne Jones, director of Strategic Issues, GAO

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By Vyomika Jairam
Federal News Radio

As the government looks for more ways to recruit and retain a talented workforce, the work-life programs that agencies offer can go a long way to helping the effort.

Programs such as child care and flexible work schedules have been incorporated at agencies, but the Government Accountability Office looked into what more agencies can do, and what the Office of Personnel Management can do to support agencies.

"Agencies are needing to make some very difficult decisions these days because of budget limitations," said Yvonne Jones, director of Strategic Issues at GAO. "So each agency needs to determine what they need to do for their workforce in this area and what they can do within the confines of their budgetary resources."

GAO surveyed chief human capital officers and workplace managers at 20 federal agencies to determine what they felt about the assistance and guidance they received from OPM about work-life programs, and to what extent they were measuring and evaluating their work-life programs. GAO also surveyed seven private sector companies to see the programs that they offered that the evaluations that they conducted

"We felt that the collection and evaluation of this information can help federal agencies as they implement their work-life programs," Jones said.

OPM found that some work-life programs that agencies made available, such as flexible work schedules and telework options, were helpful to all employees, while resources such as child care are helpful to a subset of the workforce.

The survey found that "OPM can help by providing guidance to agencies, providing information and providing assistance to agencies," Jones said. However, the survey also found that "OPM already does quite a bit of that."

"We found that they were, in general, satisfied with OPM's assistance and their guidance and information sharing," Jones said. For example, OPM offers websites, makes points of contacts available at other agencies, and offers discussion sessions to agencies looking to expand their work-life programs.

However, while OPM does obtain some information on how agencies evaluate their work-life programs, a follow-up with OPM found that the agency did not seek and maintain that information itself, something GAO recommends that the agency does.

Other recommendations include working with chief human capital offices to more systematically track their measures and evaluations of work-life programs, and should evaluate the results from private sector surveys.

Work-life program can also go a long way in tough economic climate, especially facing a proposed pay freeze.

"We do know that [managers] do feel that work-life balance programs can have an important impact on employee morale," Jones said.

Click for highlights from GAO's study.