RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A new survey shows several state employees are unhappy with the implementation of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s new telework policy and many are considering leaving their jobs because of it.
The Virginia Governmental Employees Association collected responses from 708 members within the last week and the survey remains open. While some workers conveyed support for Youngkin’s changes, preliminary results provide insight into building frustration behind the scenes.
In the survey, one anonymous state employee commented, “I’ve never seen worse morale in 15 years of employment with the state. This is the most negative and vocal reaction I’ve ever seen to a policy change.”
Several respondents echoed that concern.
Regardless, Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter defended the policy and downplayed the survey results in a statement on Tuesday.
“This survey only accounts for 700 or so respondents, which only amounts to around 1% of state employees. This is not a comprehensive evaluation of the entire state workforce,” Porter said. “An office-centric environment fosters collaboration and teamwork and provides an even greater level of service for all Virginians.”
Youngkin’s policy said Virginia state employees “will return to the physical workplace,” effective July 5th. Those who wanted to continue teleworking were told to seek additional approval at increasingly high levels, depending on the number of days requested.
However, many survey respondents reported being told that they could only apply for a specific number of telework days at the start of the process. In the survey, 41% said they could only ask for one day, 21% said they were limited to two, and 5% said they weren’t allowed to apply at all.
Different approaches across state agencies reportedly led some employees to raise concerns about bias and favoritism.
“The only consistent thing with this policy has been its blatant inconsistency,” wrote one state employee. “The environment is becoming toxic, and it does not have to be.”
In response, Porter said more people are teleworking in government now than before the pandemic, with a majority of employees deciding to be in the office a majority of the week. She said, of 21,312 telework eligible employees, 9,866 chose a telework option and 8,820 requested 1 to 2 days.
Porter didn’t directly address alleged limitations on the application process and whether that occurred at the agency level or at the direction of the governor’s office.
“The governor’s office touted that less than 50% of employees requested telework. Of course we didn’t request it…we weren’t allowed,” said one employee.
“The policy was designed to intimidate state employees into asking for as little an opportunity for telework as possible,” wrote a different respondent.
Of those who requested continued telework, 23% of respondents said they were denied, 52% were approved, 8% didn’t get everything they asked for and at least 18% apparently haven’t received a response yet.
Porter didn’t immediately respond when asked if some applications are still pending and when all requests are expected to be processed.
Compared to work arrangements before the COVID-19 pandemic, 26% said their telework has decreased, 31% said remote days have increased and 32% ‘stayed the same.’
Based on public records requests from five state agencies, 8News reported earlier this month that more than 300 employees have resigned since Youngkin announced the new telework policy.
The survey suggests more could follow, with several commenting that they’re actively searching or interviewing for another job.
Of 681 employees that responded to the question, 41% said they’re now rethinking state employment and considering a job in the private sector, with another 17% weighing retirement. On the same question, 42% said they’re not considering leaving as a result of the changes.
The data confirmed the VGEA’s fears from the beginning, according to the association’s lobbyist Dylan Bishop.
“What we’re seeing based on the data that is trickling out is, unfortunately, we were correct. This revised telework agreement is making state employment less appealing and it’s only going to exacerbate our already existing recruitment and retention issue,” Bishop said.
In the comments, many raised concerns about the increasing cost of gas and losing work-life balance. Others said the changes posed logistical challenges around arranging child care and reignited fears about the spread of COVID-19.
“The governor‘s overly broad action broke trust with state employees and left families scrambling,” wrote one employee.
Asked about implementation of the telework policy, 75% said they weren’t satisfied and 25% said they were satisfied. On how the new system has impacted them, 76% said it has been negative whereas 24% said it has been positive.
“The entire process was an absolute disaster. There was endless confusion from executives, HR and management,” said another respondent.
However, others expressed relief that more people would be returning to the workplace. They argued productivity and communication were suffering because of excessive telework under the old system.
“I think it is a good practice to have everyone reapply as I know some were abusing this under the last administration,” one employee wrote.
“I feel teleworking should end completely. We are at the point where EVERYONE should be back in the workplace…I believe people have become lazier during the pandemic and have become settled in a comfortable state,” another employee said.
“People need to get back to the office. The quality of work during telework was horrible. Total chaos!” said a different employee.
Bishop said, once the survey closes, they plan to formally ask the Youngkin administration to consider revisiting the telework policy.
“We’ve already seen a negative impact on state employment as a result of this policy and we want to correct that as soon as possible,” Bishop said.