Over the past few years, federal agencies have been encouraged to support programs that promote work-life balance. According to a presidential memo issued last June, “To attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce in the 21st century, the Federal Government must continue to make progress in enabling employees to balance their responsibilities at work and at home.” Basically, millennials crave a greater work-life balance, and the feds need to figure out how to provide it to remain a competitive employer. Some of the programs touted by various agencies include in-office gyms, agency sports teams, and flexible work environments/schedules. Just this month, OPM put out an online handbook geared specifically toward offering employees flexibility when having or adopting a baby, or becoming foster parents.
Some of the work-life programs in various agencies have met an early end. Take, for example, the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) pilot at OPM. The gist is that certain employees, who are not client-facing, should have the flexibility to do their jobs whenever, wherever. Unfortunately, in the pilot, managers were unable to hold already low-performing employees accountable, and those who were working in the ROWE environment felt that they weren’t receiving enough feedback to effectively perform their duties. Deloitte conducted a study of the program and found a number of critical issues, and ROWE co-creator Jody Thompson said that OPM ended the pilot too early and didn’t make the necessary culture changes to create a successful program.
However, there are agencies that are succeeding. Based on the most recent iteration of the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey, the Intelligence Community and NASA lead large agencies in supporting work-life balance. Among mid-sized agencies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and FDIC take top prize, while the Surface Transportation Board and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service take top honors among small agencies.
Regardless of whether your agency pushes its work-life balance programs, there are ways that you can try to find balance on your own.
- Set your priorities: Decide what is most important to you, rather than what you think should be most important to you. Choose five to 10 of your top priorities, and write them down.
- Track your time: Over the course of a week, write down how you spend your time (both work time and free time), then, analyze how that aligns with your top priorities. If you find that you’re spending most of your time on your lowest priorities, look for ways to realign your schedule.
- Create more time in your day: To do this, stop multitasking. We’re all guilty of it. But when you work each of your tasks to completion, without interruption, you’ll create more time in your day for your priorities.
- Schedule fun into each day: This is based on your definition of fun. It could be quiet time, working out, playing a game with your kids, reading, basically anything that you look forward to doing. Put this on your schedule just like any meeting or project, so that you get the much-needed pleasure out of each day.
- Take a vacation: Take a week off, or even a day or two. You don’t need to go anywhere. You can stay home, and focus on doing the things that you enjoy, rather than the things that are required of you. Refocusing on what is important to you and reconnecting with your non-work life is essential in developing balance.
- Seek balance in all aspects of your life: Are you getting enough sleep? Eating well? Taking care of yourself? Exercising? Creating whole life balance can help you better align your work and home priorities and give you more energy to tackle everything that comes your way each day.
- Seek support: Tell your partner, closest friend, or boss how you are trying to create balance in your life. They’ll be your biggest cheerleaders and will help keep you on the right path.
- Create electronic boundaries: When you get home, turn off your phone and stop answering emails. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour, allow yourself a chance to regroup and both physically and mentally leave work.
- Say “no”: You can’t create balance if you keep taking on more and more tasks, whether they be at work or at home. Find a way to delegate responsibilities, where possible, or start saying “no” when you know you don’t have more time in your day.
- Seek a flexible work environment: Talk to your boss to determine if teleworking is possible in your position, even if just for one day a week. This might give you the flexibility you need to focus on family priorities, while also getting your work done. If you are unsure whether you can become a teleworker, speak with your agency’s Telework Managing Officer.
- Re-evaluate: Every six months or so, take the time to sit down and look at whether you have effectively created the work-life balance you are seeking. If not, restart at #1 on this list, and make the necessary changes.
If you want to learn more about the work-life programs offered at your agency, visit OPM’s website to find your Work-Life Agency Coordinator.
How have you created balance in your own life?