Navy focuses on family matters

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The Navy today isn’t your father’s Navy, and the workforce aren’t the sailors of yesteryear either.

“I think there’s a realization that unlike many civilian organizations,” said Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral Mark Ferguson, “we have to recruit someone at the beginning at very young and keep them for a career. We grow our own leadership and talent from within.”

So the Navy has been focusing on what options are available as recruitment and retention tools. The answer, Ferguson told Federal News Radio, has been finding the right balance of work-life programs.

This new generation that’s entering the workforce has a great emphasis on family and we started these programs with a simple question of “how do we make it from Navy or family to Navy and family,” and by asking that simple question, it opens up to what’s possible that we can innovate.

Ferguson said some of those programs include:

  • Sabbaticals – This pilot program “offers a male or female individual serving, officer and enlisted” up to three years off with a “small living stipend” during that period with full “commissary privileges, health benefits, and we hold their promotion clock kind of still” and then they owe an obligated service upon return. There are no restrictions on how the sailor uses the time, said Ferguson, so they can pursue an education, life experiences, or take the time to deal with a family emergency.
  • Paternity leave – Over 18,000 sailors so far have taken advantage of the program, said Ferguson, allowing up to 10 days for the birth of a child.
  • New Mothers – Offered up to 12 months of operational deferment, so it’s “the most comprehensive policy of all the military services.”
  • Leave for Adoptive Parents – Up to 21 days of administrative leave.
  • Child Care – “We have funded 14 new child care centers and over 500 in-home childcare programs over the next few years,” said Ferguson.
  • Virtual Command – Being tested now. Allows sailors to work virtually so they don’t have to relocate. For example, said Ferguson, if a sailor has a child who is a senior in high school, or a spouse who can’t relocate, being able to work from a remote site up to thousands of miles away “saves stress on the family, moving costs, and saves us an expense as well. It’s a focus on how to create a results oriented work environment, which I think is opening up a bunch of new ideas for us.”

Result Metrics

Ferguson said more than 50% of enlisted women are now starting their careers with technical sea-going ratings and that women officers are now in training to serve on submarines.

So we’re looking at their retention and we’ve seen in women that are on ships about a six to eight percent jump in their retention rates, we see more women going into the technical fields, but we’re also seeing in our family-spouse survey data, for example in just the last four years, the number of spouses who have said, they want their, as a junior enlisted, their husband to stay for a career has jumped from in the low of 20% up to over 60% and these programs play a large part in that where people can start to balance their family and their professional work.

Another indication that the Navy may have found just the right mix for improving productivity and keeping workers happy is having been awarded the 2010 Work-Life Innovative Excellence Award from the Alliance for Work Life Progress. Past winners include Pepsi Bottling Group, Verizon Wireless and IBM.

The Navy Times reports the department was “ranked 17th in the Top 125 Organizations That Excel at Employee Development in February, and receiving the coveted Optimas Award in March. That award recognizes the Navy as the nation’s leader in human resources management – specifically recognizing the Navy’s innovative initiatives and excellence in the recruiting, development and care of its people.”

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