Supervisors Support Employee Well-Being at Work
Life is demanding: family commitments, errands, chores…With so much going on, it’s tough to find time to take care of ourselves. Trying to juggle our busy personal lives while tackling work duties is a balancing act that can seem overwhelming. Luckily, NIH has programs and resources to help us maneuver through the circus of life.
Research shows that work-life programs—such as flexible schedules, child and elder care programs, worksite fitness and other wellness and community programs, all of which NIH offers—help employees to be less stressed and more productive. In October, as part of National Work and Family Month, four NIH supervisors and an Office of Personnel Management employment specialist shared their experiences and philosophies for promoting work-life balance at a panel discussion in Lipsett Amphitheater.
“I really believe that if employees are supported by their supervisors and the organization as a whole in meeting both personal and professional obligations, the organization will benefit in terms of retaining good employees and meeting organizational objectives,” said Tim Tosten, associate director for program and employee services, ORS.
The ability to telework regularly helps Tosten achieve his fitness and other personal goals and spend extra time with his dog Jackson, rather than spending that time battling traffic on his commute.
“My philosophy is that employees should not feel they need to create a balance,” said Berko, “which is why I prefer the term work-life fit.”
Dr. Judie Walters and Melissa Bronez, both recent recipients of the NIH Work-Life and Well-Being Champion Director’s Award, reflected on the early years of their careers. When they started their families, both initially returned to work part-time to make work and life fit.
“We’re all here because we love doing science,” said Walters, a neurophysiologist with NINDS who has worked at NIH for more than 40 years. “That’s a bond, something to encourage, and yet the pleasures of doing science and research are less satisfying if they don’t co-exist well with our other life challenges.”
Bronez, associate director for research operations and planning at NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, credited her executive officer for supporting Bronez’s change to a part-time schedule after starting a family, and two inspirational supervisors who supported her work-life balance, enabling her to do meaningful work and flourish. Eventually, she returned to management full time after her children were grown.
So much has improved over the years, said Walters, in the ways NIH supports and promotes child care and wellness programs and other work-life opportunities. Her employees with young children told her they especially have appreciated NIH’s child care centers, parenting coach, lactation rooms and flex schedules.
“My goal has been to try to nudge the culture,” she said, “to help the people I work with in the lab take advantage of available resources.”
Corey Adams, an OPM employee engagement and work-life specialist, said results from the 2017 Federal Work-Life Survey showed that NIH exceeded government-wide benchmarks for participation in, and reported benefit from, work-life programs, particularly in family care and health and wellness programs.
Adams wasn’t surprised. “As we look across government,” he said, “NIH has a robust, strategically targeted family and dependent care program that truly meets employee needs.”
Across all federal agencies, the survey also revealed that most employees who teleworked and/or participated in health and wellness programs performed their jobs better and were much more likely to remain at their agencies.
Still, some employees fear asking their supervisors for telework or other schedule flexibilities. Berko advised asking hesitant managers to try the program as a pilot, then check in periodically to evaluate the arrangement.
“Make the business case for why it will help the organization, not just what’s in it for you,” Berko said.
When an employee asks for flexibility, said Tosten, “Don’t say no; say let’s try.”
Supervisors shouldn’t wait for their employees to ask, said Bronez. “Reach out; ask how are things going? How can I help you be more productive?”
Communication is key. If supervisors and employees discuss expectations, and if there’s ongoing trust and transparency, staff tend to be highly productive, she added.
“Taking care of yourself physically, having a strong social support network and reducing stress improve your overall health,” said Tosten. “We can’t have the best, most effective work population doing incredibly important work for our country and the world unless we support them holistically.”
To learn about the many work-life programs at NIH, visit https://hr.nih.gov/working-nih/work-life. To watch a videocast of this event, see https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=34856&bhcp=1.