U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez knows, as he puts it, that “the most important family value of all is time with your family.” In raising his own three children, he’s carved out time to coach them in baseball and basketball, which he says “has strengthened our bonds and given me indescribable joy.” As a presidential appointee at the highest level of government, instead of putting family aside and resigning himself to long hours, he’s made work-life balance – and leading by example – a priority.
Secretary Perez isn’t shirking his duties when he takes time to attend a parent-teacher meeting or have dinner with his kids; instead, he’s able to juggle work and family because, he explains, “I can move tasks around. If I don’t get something done at the office at 4:30 in the afternoon, I can go back to it at 10:00 in the evening.”
But he also knows that far too many Americans don’t have access to that same flexibility, and that’s not only bad for their own personal well-being, but bad for our productivity at large. He shared in an interview with The Washington Post that flexible schedules and telework “are not only family friendly, they also have a positive impact on how we meet our mission.” With that in mind, expanding access to work flexibility for all employees is a priority for the Department of Labor and the federal government as a whole.
Tanveer Rana, an IT Specialist in the DOL’s New York regional office, has seen the benefits of the DOL’s support for work flexibility first-hand. Rana is part of a small team that manages network systems and provides help-desk support for 1700 employees in New York and Boston. When his youngest daughter was born last year, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition that requires daily doses of medicine and monthly blood work check-ups. He shares, “At that point, I started working from home once a week, which has allowed me to be available for trips to the doctor or as back-up childcare for my older daughter, and still get my work done.”
Recently, Rana transitioned to compressed workweeks of four 10-hour days each week (80 hours over eight days every two weeks). As a result, his morning commutes have greatly improved: a trip from his New Jersey home to the New York office used to take him up to an hour and a half. Now, his early starts have helped keep the journey to 45 minutes. Outside of his four-day schedule, he’s available on-call and has made the most of ever-improving technology: most of the time, he can handle anything that comes up over his cell phone or tablet, which are both configured to ensure all the proper security is in place.
Having Fridays off and the ability to telecommute means more quality time with his young family. But it also means Rana’s getting more work done. Arriving at his desk at 7:00 a.m. before the rest of his team, he has nearly two hours in the mornings to work without distractions. And when he’s working from home, he has up to an extra three hours per day to devote to productive tasks that would otherwise have been spent in transit. It’s not just Rana who’s noticed this improvement: his manager, Laurence Vasile, agrees, “When Tan’s working from home, I’m never concerned that he’s not getting his work done. He’s absolutely committed to his job and if anything, he’s more productive now than ever before.” Vasile adds, “I’m very supportive of his flexible schedule because I can see that it’s not only been good for him, but it’s been great for our team’s efficiency as well.”
Successful implementation of flex requires vocal champions at the top like Secretary Perez. But it also requires that policies are put into practice, and that employees recognize that they are not only allowed – but encouraged – to embrace new ways of working. As Perez himself notes, “What’s important isn’t just being able to put food on the dinner table – we want you to be at the dinner table, too.”
As the director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, the first national initiative calling for a collective voice in support of work flexibility, I’m thrilled to see how DOL is leading the way on this issue. If you’re an employee or manager reaping the rewards of flexibility, chime in on social media using the hashtags #1MFWF and #workflex. And if you agree that work flexibility benefits employees, employers, our families, our communities, and the economy at large, please join our movement to help expand access to work flexibility at workplaces across the country.
photo credit: istockphoto.com