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Don’t wait for emergency to make flexibility routine

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in Employee Benefits Program,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

by Kathryn Oliver Kadilak

If you think your work/life effort is complete so long as your organization helps its employees with child care, elder care and flexible work hours, it might be time to update your definitions.

Work/life programs bring value not only to employees but also to organizations. If you’ve got a good one, chances are you’ll see benefits the next time your company faces an emergency.

Work/life is quickly becoming something much larger than an HR function to help employees balance job and family. As technology evolves, work/life programs—especially flexibility options such as telework and compressed workweeks—are becoming part of many organizations’ strategic plans. It’s already happening in the federal government. What U.S. agencies are learning may help you.

Crossing boundaries

Federal officials are taking a hard look at ways to ensure that the government continues to operate during the next emergency, whether it’s a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a war.

Agency leaders are crossing department boundaries to partner on this, and likewise, they expect the divisions within their agencies to put territorial issues aside and cooperate to come up with the best plan.

The contingency planning has made it obvious that flexibility is crucial to successfully continuing government operations in emergency situations. Federal employees might be required to work from home if their offices are shut down during an emergency. They also will need counselors to help them manage their fear and grief so they can continue to work. Many will need alternative child care, or even housing. Some will ask for family leave.

As high-level agency officials look at work/life in this light, it’s becoming clear to them that this is more than a collection of programs. Indeed, even those who once viewed work/life as a luxury have begun to understand that the effort is an important part of a strategic plan for continuing operations in an emergency. It’s equally clear that if government agencies and private-sector organizations will depend on work/life benefits during emergencies, they need to make them a routine part of life at work today.

Business as usual

You can prepare now for an emergency later. Employees and managers need to experience—now—what it’s like to work in a remote environment or during unusual work hours. That’s the only way they’ll be able to hit the ground running when an emergency occurs.

Here’s how to prepare to build work/life flexibility into your work routine that will help later:

  • Identify which of your organization’s jobs could be performed at home instead of in the office or at the work site. Encourage employees who hold those jobs to telework for a few days, so the routine becomes familiar.
  • Cross-train employees so those who are not affected by a crisis can cover for those who become temporarily unavailable after an emergency.
  • Allow flexibility—flexible hours, flexible workdays and flexible workplaces—so employees learn to manage around their personal needs. During very stressful times, those employees will be better able to work amid disruptions to their routines.
  • Identify community housing agencies and backup resources for child care, so you’ll know where to refer employees whose regular arrangements fall through.
  • Prepare employee assistance program staff or other counselors to conduct in-person counseling as soon as an emergency occurs.

Kathryn Oliver Kadilak is president of Strategic Work/Life Solutions and former work/life manager for the U.S. Department of Justice. Contact her at (540) 878-2152. 

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