Profiles in Improvement
The Work–Life Balance category measures the extent to which employees consider their workloads reasonable and feasible, and managers support a balance between work and life.
We spoke to several agency leaders about the barriers and opportunities they faced in 2021, and the strategies they implemented to improve their scores in this category. These strategies offer vital lessons to other federal leaders.
In 2021, agencies faced considerable challenges when it came to work-life balance, from managing transitions to hybrid work to making sure employees felt safe and healthy at their jobs. Like the national workforce, many federal employees faced increased stress related to family care and had to navigate frequently changing circumstances that placed new demands on their time and attention.
Continuing to work effectively while responding to changing employee needs and a global pandemic was a tall order, but several agencies employed strategies and innovations to meet this challenge. These agencies improved their scores in the Work-Life Balance category.
“COVID-19 has undoubtedly been the most significant challenge to maintaining a healthy and safe environment for our employees. We responded by making the health and safety of our employees our top priority.”
Senior official at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
Strategies for Success
- Stay flexible and offer telework opportunities: The National Science Foundation instituted maximum telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing employee commute times and providing staff members with more control over their schedules and lives during a difficult period. The success of this policy has encouraged NSF leaders to look intentionally and critically at existing policies with the goal of promoting a more agile and collaborative culture. The agency also trained leaders in change management to ensure that they are equipped to lead when facing new challenges. Other agencies said that providing flexible schedules made a big difference in their employees’ experience during the past year.
- Communicate and keep staff informed: During stressful times, communication in the workplace is vital to work-life balance. To communicate effectively with employees in the virtual world, multiple Department of Commerce bureaus offered regular staff and all-hands meetings, broadcasts, and Q&A sessions. A number of Commerce bureaus also took an individualized approach to engagement, training leaders to support their teams more effectively, assessing remote work on a case-by-case basis, and the Office of the Secretary hiring a chief diversity officer to better understand and respond to the challenges that different employees face. Other agencies found success in creating mentally and physically safe spaces for staff to share concerns and ask questions.
- Invest in support systems: The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation thought creatively about employee needs during the past year and recognized the importance of holistic supports. The agency not only offered alternative schedules and telework, but also invested in other benefits for employee health like expanded dependent care programs, child care subsidies and support services for families on official travel. A change in work routines means more than just working from home, and agencies knew they had to examine every point along the employee journey to support their staff.
“NSF leaders have been very flexible during the entire pandemic period and put employee safety and health (including mental health) high on the priority list. Leaders have been mindful of communications and maintained transparency, engagement and empathy.”
Senior official at the National Science Foundation
Several agencies plan to continue supporting and investing in their employees approach to work-life balance, with many using the rapid changes of the past two years as an opportunity to reevaluate policies and procedures.
- Learning to listen: The Department of Commerce bureaus are leveraging employee resources groups and employee engagement teams, which will use results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and our Best Places to Work analysis to provide feedback and propose changes based on employee needs.
- Centering the employee journey: NSF was inspired by the improvements in work-life balance they saw this past year and plans to examine engagement and satisfaction at every point of the employee journey. The agency aims to reform recruitment, onboarding, leadership development and norms for a hybrid environment.
- Using data effectively: The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation views data on the employee experience as a “springboard for conversations,” and will continue to use fresh insights to build intentional policies and understand how different departments approach challenges in work-life balance and other categories.