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Balancing Work, Family: DoD Family-Friendly Policies

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 1997 – Nell Hayes, a Freedom of Information specialist at the Defense Special Weapons Agency, recently worked at home while recovering from a serious auto accident.

Patty Kasold, a senior adviser at DoD's Family Policy Office, works longer hours each day so she's free to volunteer every week at her 9-year-old son's elementary school.

Peter Lagerberg, a personnel security specialist at Washington Headquarters Services' Consolidated Adjudication Facility, used shared leave to journey to Russia to adopt twin 4-year-old sons and a 2-year-old daughter.

These DoD employees have one thing in common. They've learned to balance work requirements and family needs by taking advantage of family-friendly work policies.

For the last year, officials at DoD's Office of Family Policy have been collecting information on flexible work policies. Last July, President Clinton sent a memorandum to all federal agencies asking what they were doing to promote family-friendly practices, said Meg Falk, a senior policy adviser for Family Services. In turn, her office polled the military departments and defense agencies.

"What we received back was quite impressive," Falk said.

Throughout the department is an array of policies allowing telecommuting, alternate work schedules and many creative efforts like parenting seminars and safety inspections for child car seats, she said.

The National Security Agency, for example, allows employees up to 100 hours per year to volunteer in the community. Other agencies have Family Days, inviting spouses and children into job sites to get a better understanding of what their family members do all day.

"There is a host of programs people are doing either in accordance with regulation or as part of these very creative grass roots efforts," Falk said.

Family policy officials submitted a report to the president titled, "Department of Defense and Families: A Total Force Partnership." In the report's opening statement, then-Defense Secretary William J. Perry states: "Defense leadership has long recognized the important interdependence of workforce productivity and family well-being.

"For a large number of DoD personnel, we have provided alternative work schedules to help meet competing demands on time," Perry said. "We have also made significant progress with alternative worksites and are actively supporting the National Telecommuting initiative ... Our child care system continues to be a benchmark for the nation. Our personnel and family support programs provide assistance ... in a wide range of areas, from hiring to transition to retirement."

The report outlines DoD programs for child care, youth services, elder care, people with special health or educational needs, family centers and employee assistance programs. It also features the growth of flexible, family-friendly work policies such as alternative work schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, leave policies, relocation and transition assistance and programs to encourage parental involvement in their children's lives.

Copies of the report are available by contacting the Military Family Resource Center at (703) 696-9053 or DSN 426-9053.

"Federal agencies, as well as a lot of civilian companies, are beginning to see the wisdom of having these kinds of policies and practices within their organization because the payoff is [higher] productivity, retention of skilled employees and job satisfaction," Falk said.

"Supervisors are realizing that when they're dealing with employees, they're dealing with much more than just the worker," she said. "They're also dealing with the whole, important entity of the family, which we know is core to our whole society."

Changing from the traditional 8-to-5 workday and 40-or-more hour workweek, however, is difficult for some managers. "There are still some supervisors out there who feel they must have their workers around them at all times if the organization is going to be productive," Falk said. "Quite frankly, that's dated thinking."

Programs like flexiplace, job sharing and telecommuting show productivity is not affected by whether or not the employee is in the office, Falk said. "Many people who have flexiplace or telecommuting arrangements say they are far more productive working that way than spending an hour or two on the road each day. Away from the fray of the telephones and the faxes and everything else, they're really able to get a lot done."

Flexible work practices help families now and will have a long-term impact on the future, Falk said. "What has to be the leitmotif as we educate the lower, middle and upper management is that this makes good sense for the immediate mission.

"It's also a good investment for the future because when parents are not stressed trying to struggle to meet the challenges of work and family, they can be more attentive to their job as well as to their children," she said. "The more children feel secure and supported, having their parents there as they grow up, the better off they'll be as future citizens."

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