Balancing Work and Family Responsibilities: Flextime and Child Care in the Federal Government

By Ezra, Marni; Deckman, Melissa | Public Administration Review, March-April 1996 | Go to article overview

Balancing Work and Family Responsibilities: Flextime and Child Care in the Federal Government


Ezra, Marni, Deckman, Melissa, Public Administration Review


Our increasingly diverse work force struggles to manage child care, elder care, family emergencies, and other personal commitments, while working conditions become ever more important. The federal government must maintain its "model employer" status and keep the workplace a humane and healthy place (National Performance Review, 1993; 84).

The current bipartisan concern for the changing work needs of the American family is reflected in Vice-President Gore's National Performance Review. In particular, the increasing presence of mothers in the work force challenges both organizations and employees to find new ways to balance work and nonwork priorities. In 1960, fewer than 19 percent of women with children under 6 years old, and 39 percent of women with children between 6 and 17 years were in the work force. By 1990, the numbers had dramatically risen to 60 percent and 75 percent, respectively (General Accounting Office, 1992; 10).

The federal government faces an especially difficult challenge in striking a balance between work and nonwork responsibilities because women's share of the federal work force increased faster than women's share of the private sector work force between 1976 and 1990 (Guy, 1993; 279). Because many women have heavy responsibilities at home once the work day is through (Hochschild, 1989), they want changes on the job that allow them an acceptable balance between work and family life. In addition, because the federal government is the largest employer in the United States, it often serves as a model for private and other public sector employers.

A growing number of employers have responded to the changing nature of the work force by offering flexible work schedules, on-site child care, more flexible leave policies, and other benefits. In the past, most employees did not need (or expect) help from employers to enable them to meet their family responsibilities. Most workers were men who could concentrate on work because "they had support systems at home, usually a wife and family" (Romzek, 1991; 228). With an increase in the number of two-career families, family responsibilities have begun to overlap with work responsibilities.

To adjust to these changes, personnel managers will need to rethink how they approach their jobs generally and how they approach recruitment and retention in particular. Personnel managers will need to change the expectations that they have about employees adjusting to the work setting and vice versa. And they will have to increase the flexibility of the organization's structure to accommodate new expectations employees have regarding work and nonwork (Romzek, 1991; 232).

This article analyzes a large survey of federal employees to assess the impact of government-provided accommodations on federal employees' satisfaction with their work/family balance and their jobs. Our study addresses the following questions. First, do the federal service's family-friendly policies, such as on-site child care and flexible work schedules, make for a happier work force? Do these policies affect some employees more than others? Second, which employees are more satisfied with their work/family balance? Third, how important is satisfaction with work/family balance to job satisfaction?

Child Care in the Federal Government

Although the federal government has more child care facilities today than ever before, "at present the U.S. has no general policy on child care" (Suntrup, 1989; 55). Before 1985, on-site child care facilities were not readily available in the federal government. In 1985, Congress passed the Trible amendment(1) which allows agencies to spend appropriated funds to provide space and services for child care facilities for federal employees (General Accounting Office, 1992; 86). While the child care situation was improved, the costs were still too high for many federal workers to afford (General Accounting Office, 1992; 87). Thus, in 1987, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) alerted agencies to the need for affordable child and dependent care in the federal government. …

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