President Obama’s flexible workforce memo acknowledges the obvious

A new presidential memorandum establishes a new baseline for the federal workforce, one that is trying to catch up to what has become the norm in the private sector: flexible work is good for the individual and the employer.
The memo in question — Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Program — is explicitly organized around the premise that the government needs to catch up to the 21st century to attract talented employees:

To attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce in the 21st century, the Federal Government must continue to make progress in enabling employees to balance their responsibilities at work and at home.  We should build on our record of leadership through better education and training, expanded availability of workplace flexibilities and work-life programs, as appropriate, and improved tracking of outcomes and accountability.  In doing so, we can help ensure that the Federal workforce is engaged and empowered to deliver exceptional and efficient service to the American public while meeting family and other needs at home.

The most important aspect of this memo (from my view) is that it clearly states that federal employees have the right to request flexible work schedules, that agencies need to inform employees of these rights, and that agencies need to respond to these requests for telework, part-time employment, and job sharing within 20 business days or less.
That might not be enough if agencies can simply turn down such requests. But the memo states that ‘Agency heads shall ensure that the following workplace flexibilities are available to the maximum extent practicable, in accordance with the laws and regulations governing these programs and consistent with mission needs’.
The list of workplace flexibility practices is extremely comprehensive:

(a) part-time employment and job sharing, including for temporary periods of time where appropriate;
(b) alternative work schedules, including assurance that core hours are limited only to those hours that are necessary;
(c) break times for nursing mothers and a private space to express milk;
(d) telework;
(e) annual leave and sick leave, including the advancement of leave for employee and family care situations;
(f) sick leave for family care and bereavement;
(g) sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition;
(h) sick leave for adoption;
(i) leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), including allowing employees to take their FMLA leave intermittently as allowed under the Act, including for childbirth, adoption, and foster care;
(j) leave transfer programs, including leave banks;
(k) bone marrow and organ donor leave; and
(l) leave policies related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking situations.

The Office of Personnel Management — the director is Katherine Achuleta, is directed by the memo to help agencies make the transition, and ensure that the agencies ‘review its workplace flexibilities and work-life policies and programs to assess whether they are being effectively used to the maximum extent practicable’.
I hope that we’ll see a report from Director Achuleta sometime after the 120 day period to learn what the state of the practice is in government agencies, and how she intends to pursue this program. I will try to speak with the agency around that time, and find out.

Sara Sutton Fell answers questions on mid-career internships

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO of FlexJobs, a leading site for finding a job that offers some type of flexibility, including telecommuting positions, flex/part-time hours, freelance, etc. FlexJobs was recently named a Top Career Site by Forbes and is the official job board for Working Mother. I  recently exchange emails with Sara, after reading about the site.


(via email)

Stowe Boyd: I am interested in learning more about your thoughts in mid-career internships. I’ve read a few articles but wonder if there are organizations or web sites that could make it more accessible to people. And of course, the hurdles involved in finding meaningful mid-career internships.

Sara Sutton Fells: Most internship sites are geared towards college students or recent graduates, so it can be tough to find the more professional opportunities that don’t require you to be a matriculating student or recent grad.  Having said that, ANY internship is a foot in the door and an opportunity to learn new skills and to prove yourself, so using sites like internships.com are certainly an option, and focusing on the jobs that are for “recent grads” and asking (or even just applying) to find out if they’ll consider not-so-recent grads.   I would also recommend people check out FlexJobs’ Internships category as well.  For example:

  • Development Intern with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  • Pharmacy Intern with Tufts Medical Center
  • Family Resource Coordinator with Second Harvest Heartland

One main strategy I recommend though (which is in the same ballpark with mid-career internships) is volunteering or working with nonprofits.  Since nonprofits are often looking for skilled volunteers, it’s a great way to keep your resume active, network, and possibly rise within the organization or your field (especially if you’re looking for a way to get experience to help you with a career change). Nonprofit and Philanthropy jobs are very popular on our site, and cover hundreds of different types of job titles.  I would recommend idealist.org and our Top 100 Companies for Nonprofit Jobs as resources.

SB: A second question: what about the legal side of unpaid internships?

SSF: Well, it’s much more restrictive than people might think.  There is a set of guidelines set out by the US Dept of Labor for Internship Programs that falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act which has strict criteria about internship programs in the private sector.  For example, the internship is “for the benefit of the intern” rather than the company, and they even state that the company “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities to the point that “on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”  So internships are really for training purposes, which is why they are geared mainly towards college students and recent graduates, to supplement or complement their educational process.

SB: I’ve written a lot about open business (see In an open business people will just show up and start working,  for example). How does that relate to midcareer internships? More new connections = more opportunities for work, right?

SSF: I’m a big believer that the perception of a straight career path (aka “climbing the ladder”) is damaging for most people.  The simple fact is that it doesn’t happen that way anymore for most people, and the expectation that it should causes self-doubt, disillusion, and a ridiculous amount of non-productive pressure.  Instead there are sidesteps, steps backwards, and occasionally leaps forward.  So I believe that the mid-career internships are a possible way to expand your professional path and learn new skills.  You get your foot in the door with a company and are theretofore considered an “internal hire” if a job does become available, and you meet and connect with colleagues to grow your professional network.


Sara’s thoughts on more flexible work situations are certainly in line with what I think the market needs, but may run aground the polarization that animates a lot of the discussion around remote work (see The polarization around remote work comes as no surprise), perhaps one of the most divisive issues today in the workplace.