RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new survey shows some state employees have significant concerns with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new policy limiting telework, with one unnamed respondent describing it as “chaos.”
It comes as the Virginia Government Employees Association is asking the administration to delay implementation to Sept. 12, 2022, giving employees more time to address childcare and commuting needs. The group is also asking Youngkin to reconsider the “blanket nature” of the policy in favor of a nuanced approach that gives individual agencies more decision-making power.
So far, Youngkin isn’t budging.
The new rules, currently set to take effect July 5, say Virginia state employees “will return to the physical workplace.” Those who want to continue teleworking were asked to seek additional approval at increasingly high levels depending on the number of remote days being requested per week.
VGEA released a summary of their survey results on Wednesday morning. It reflects responses from more than 400 state employees, 77% of which asked to remain anonymous.
The survey said 50% mentioned rising gas costs as a concern. Some noted telework reduces the cost of travel, car maintenance and parking fees.
Childcare was the number one issue for 25% of respondents. The summary noted that families were previously told telework would be a permanent fixture. Employees raised concerns about arranging childcare and having less family time after returning to the office.
“Governor Youngkin said during his campaign that he was for the parents and putting families first. So let’s do that,” one state employee said.
For some, coronavirus exposure is still top of mind.
“I have a toddler with an underlying medical condition who is currently unable to be vaccinated against COVID. Each day I am unnecessarily in the office (even masked), I’m increasing my own risk of exposure and by extension, that of my spouse and child,” another employee wrote.
VGEA Lobbyist Dylan Bishop said he brought up those concerns in a meeting Wednesday morning with Virginia’s Secretary of Administration Lyn McDermid.
“Frankly it was unworkable for a number of our members, state employees, to arrange for childcare in that quick turnaround time so it was simply unfeasible. We asked for a delay. I don’t think we’re going to be granted that delay,” Bishop said.
Bishop said McDermid assured him that those issues would be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. The Secretary also said they’ve instructed agencies to grant telework requests “liberally,” according to Bishop.
In the survey, some said teleworking reduced stress and increased productivity.
Others worried about losing the balance and flexibility that comes with working from home. The survey said 46% teleworked pre-COVID under a less stringent policy and some don’t have offices to return to.
“Many life decisions were previously made based on the long-standing policy allowing for telework up to four days a week plus additional flexibility. And by essentially ending our ability to telecommute, my life has been upended,” one employee said.
The survey revealed employee retention may be at risk as flexible telework policies become more common in the private sector.
“If this policy isn’t changed significantly there will be massive repercussions, including a ton of experienced workers leaving for private sector jobs. The state government will basically be put on its knees,” one employee wrote.
State employees also expressed disappointment with the administration’s roll out of the policy, which some described as rushed and confusing.
“Can only be described as chaos,” one employee said.
“They admitted that there were some communications errors and they could’ve communicated their intentions more clearly,” Bishop said after his meeting with McDermid.
At an event on Wednesday, Governor Youngkin declined to take questions about the new survey but a spokesperson said he has no plans to make changes.
In a press conference last week, Youngkin stood by his emphasis on in-person work when asked about push back.
“We know across business that collaboration improves and service improves,” Youngkin said. “I think this is a very natural and good process that will in fact restore an office-centric environment, but oh, by the way, make telework accommodations for those who need it.”
Last Friday, the administration missed its self-imposed deadline to return applications for continued telework. Youngkin’s Chief of Staff Jeff Goettman said in a memo that he anticipated completing this step in the process early this week.
As of Wednesday evening, Youngkin’s office had yet to respond to questions on whether that work had been finished, as well as how many applications have been approved and denied.
“What’s really going to make or break this policy is going to be how it’s implemented,” Bishop said.