Seventy-seven percent of government employees in Virginia aren’t satisfied with a telework policy recently implemented by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, according to a survey conducted by the Virginia Government Employees Association last week.
In May, Youngkin announced a new telework policy, which impacts those under the executive branch, to bring back employees to the workplace after more than two years of most staff working from home due to the COVID pandemic.
Under the policy, employees seeking one telework day per week or a temporary telework period of no more than two weeks need approval from their agency head. Two telework days a week require approval from the cabinet secretary, and more than two days per week require approval from Youngkin’s chief of staff.
Many employees have previously expressed dissatisfaction with the policy.
“The vast majority of state employees were dissatisfied with the change in policy, but there was a small contingent that was pleased to see it,” said Dylan Bishop, a lobbyist for the VGEA. “They were anxious to get back into the office and thought that morale and efficiency would improve as a result of the return to work policy.”
Virginia had approximately 106,481 full-time and temporary employees in the executive branch as of May 31, according to data from the Department of Human Resource Management. An agency spokesperson was unable to immediately provide current data.
The VGEA survey, which included responses from more than 900 people, showed that 72% of employees had experienced negative impacts from the telework policy, including rising costs for commuting and daycare. Fifty-eight percent indicated that the policy has made them reconsider joining the private sector or consider retiring.
One respondent said the policy does not meet the needs of all employees and urged leaders to have direct dialogue with workers.
Another respondent said the new telework policy has added “emotional stress” on them and their family, all of whom have underlying health conditions.
“Teleworking the five days has helped me to maintain a healthy work-life balance and took (away) the stressors of knowing that I would not be exposing myself and family to unnecessary exposure to COVID,” the respondent said. “Although we all are fully vaccinated, it does not mitigate the concerns that I have by being in the office.”
But another employee commented that it’s “ridiculous” how long teleworking has lasted and said the practice increases office staff’s workload regularly.
Bishop said the data shows the new policy is encouraging employees to consider leaving state employment.
“The commonwealth of Virginia as a workforce has had a longstanding recruitment and retention issue, and we feel that this return to work policy would only exacerbate that issue,” he said.
Instead, he said flexible work environments, including telework and remote work options, could help Virginia address its recruitment and retention problems.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, said in an email to the Virginia Mercury that more government employees are teleworking today than they did before the pandemic.
Between May 1 and June 30, Porter said the state has hired 1,690 employees. She said 1,066 employees have left employment through resignations and retirements but did not provide a date range.
Exit interviews do not require a reason for leaving.
“An office-centric environment fosters greater collaboration, innovation and teamwork providing an even higher level of service for all Virginians,” Porter said.