US revitalises federal employee support programmes to boost wellness and productivity

By on 30/05/2023 | Updated on 30/05/2023
Veronica E. Hinton, the Office of Personnel Management's associate director of employee services

The US Office of Personnel Management has produced guidance outlining a standardised approach to employee wellness programmes across government.

The aim is to encourage agencies to re-evaluate and enhance staff support programmes in a bid to improve the health and productivity of the workforce, promote equitability, and reinforce the government’s goal of being model employer.  

The guidance, published on 24 May, follows President Biden’s Management Agenda, which tasked agencies with promoting “wellbeing and [supporting] initiatives that extend beyond the workplace”.

In a memo, Veronica E. Hinton, OPM’s associate director of employee services said the guidance promotes comprehensive, consistent and evidence-based approaches to wellness programming and equitable access to support services across federal agencies. It supports agencies in “utilising available tools and resources so that employee wellness is efficiently fostered, uplifted, and consistently prioritised across government,” she said.   

Read more: Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement

According to the guidance, support services which are, or should be, offered to federal employees include mental health counselling; crisis intervention; substance use treatment; financial and legal services; access to dependent care; life-stage planning; workplace conflict resolution; and cultural competency services.

It also suggests that agencies offer employees tools to track their mental and physical health digitally, in-person or virtual fitness classes, health and wellness seminars, and training on mental health and suicide prevention.

OPM added that “services should include resources and supports for underserved communities, and incorporate training programmes in the areas of cultural and ethnic awareness, workplace microaggressions and gender inclusivity”. For example, it said transgender and non-binary employees should have access to external support services including help navigating workplace and social transitions and education for family members.

Read more: Australia releases psychosocial guidance for government workplaces

It is up to agencies to select what to offer as part of an employee wellness programme and to choose vendors to deliver those services.

Recommendations and best practices laid out in the guidance cover services and resources, the office environment, equality and inclusion, promotion and marketing, employee feedback and key performance indicators.

Proactive, not reactive

OPM has tasked agency leaders and managers with reinforcing a culture that encourages employees to seek help proactively rather than reactively.

Managers, supervisors and employees should be reminded “about the importance of cultivating healthy wellness habits”, Hinton said, which include being proactive about caring for their mental health. Leaders should be encouraged to initiate regular conversations surrounding mental wellbeing in efforts to normalise and destigmatise mental health treatment and to promote a healthier workforce.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, for every US$1 invested in an employee assistance programme, employers save an average of US$5 to US$16, in part due to programmes’ typically low operating costs in comparison with the high costs associated with lack of productivity, absenteeism, accidents and negative mental and physical health consequences that employees may experience “when not appropriately afforded wellness resources, services and supports”.

The 19-page guidance document was informed by research undertaken over the last year including consultation with agencies and wellness programme vendors and focus groups with experts in health sciences, mental health, substance abuse and psychology.

Training course: Wellbeing and stress – building resilience in remote, hybrid and office-based teams

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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