DoD needs more workplace flexibility

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

When Adm. Michael Mullen addressed an audience that had assembled at the National Press Club Tuesday to hear about creating more flexible work environments, he expected at least some skepticism in the crowd.

“Some of you might wonder, ‘why is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here today?’ It’s a welcome break from Egypt,” he said to laughter.

Mullen works for an organization that is renowned as the world’s best in many arenas. A flexible approach to human resources, however, is not one of them. But the organizers of Tuesday’s event, the Society of Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute, invited Mullen because they say he is a genuine believer in the notion that more flexible workplace practices lead to more successful organizations.


Mullen said he views creating a more flexible workplace in the Defense Department as a “strategic imperative” to the nation as a whole. Failing to accomplish that, he said, would lead to a flight of talent from the military.

“People ask me about the future of our military. I only use one metric,” he said. “We’re the most combat hardened, capable force we’ve ever been. Those young captains, those young 25-to-35 year-olds and their families – if we keep the right ones in, we’re going to be fine for decades to come. And the opposite is true as well. They have choices because they’re so extremely capable.”

Mullen offered no details on how the military would implement a more flexible environment, but said the approach that DoD takes should be centered around a philosophy that lets military members keep their families at the center of their lives. He said the need for new thinking in that area has been hammered home by the hardships borne by a generation of children who have seen a mother or father sent away on multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

“We’ve got 15-year-old kids – this is one of the ways I try to highlight this – who from the beginning of the time that they started to understand what their parents did, their whole life has been at war,” he said. “I’ve got 18-or 19-year-olds who were 10 when it started and now went off to college and don’t really know their parents that well because mom or dad has been away at least 50 percent of the time.”

He said DoD needs to keep up with the changes that private industry and civilian agencies are making in their outlooks regarding the value of allowing employees to integrate their home lives with their work lives.

“It is an imperative for us,” he said. “I look forward to learning organizations who have clearly succeeded in this as we continue our way through this.”

Mullen was one of several speakers at an event Tuesday announcing a new partnership between the Society of Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute. The effort is intended, the two organizations say, to share research that demonstrates that workplace flexibility is a boon to both employers and employees.

Brint Ryan, CEO of Dallas-based tax services firm Ryan LLC ,said organizations should not view flexible workplaces as simply a recruiting or retention tool. He said his company’s emphasis on workplace flexibility tracked closely with increased financial performance driven by a more satisfied, effective workforce, and cut the firm’s annual employee turnover rate to a third of what it had been.

“I’m a rabid capitalist,” he said. “I didn’t go down this path just to provide another employee benefit. I wanted to make money.”

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