OPM Releases new Guidance Agenda to Help Optimize Federal Employee Treatment

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

The aim is to encourage agencies to re-evaluate and enhance staff support programs 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 “utilizing available tools and resources so that employee wellness is efficiently fostered, uplifted, and consistently prioritized across government,” she said.    

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. 

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. 

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 is also about being proactive about caring for their mental health. Leaders should be encouraged to initiate regular conversations surrounding mental wellbeing in efforts to normalize and destigmatize 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 program employers save an average of US$5 to US$16, in part due to programs 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”. 

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