VA chief Bob McDonald holds a town hall meeting in Washington. The viewpoint survey was conducted before McDonald took over and made an effort to improve morale.

VA chief Bob McDonald holds a town hall meeting in Washington. The viewpoint survey was conducted before McDonald took over and made an effort to improve morale. Robert Turtil/VA

Overall Morale at VA Dips, Along With Faith in Leaders

Agency employees report a strong sense of mission and enthusiasm for their work despite challenges.

Employees at the Veterans Affairs Department are less enchanted with their job and agency this year than they were in 2013.

Sixty-four percent of VA respondents to the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint survey reported being content with their job overall, down from 66 percent last year. Satisfaction with the department overall also was worse: 53 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the VA compared to 55 percent in 2013. The decrease in satisfaction isn’t particularly surprising given the widespread management problems at VA that came to light this spring, including cover-ups related to patient care.

Faith in senior leadership also took a hit over the past year, similar to the response from Defense Department employees on that topic.

Forty-four percent of VA workers who responded to the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey agreed that their organization’s top leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity,” compared to 49 percent in 2013 . Thirty-six percent said their senior leadership generated “high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce,” compared to 41 percent who agreed with that statement last year. And the number of respondents who said they felt a “high level of respect” for their organization’s top tier fell four percentage points from 2013 to 2014, from 50 percent to 46 percent. A paltry 37 percent said they were satisfied with the policies and practices of the VA’s senior leaders.

Robert McDonald, a former CEO at Procter & Gamble, took over as VA secretary this summer after department employees responded to the annual survey. McDonald has launched an ambitious management and human resources effort to reform the department -- and raise morale -- including increasing the salaries of new physicians and dentists to recruit more doctors and improve veterans’ access to care.

VA managers also received lower marks from respondents in this year’s survey on their ability to effectively communicate agency goals, priorities and specific projects. That decrease could have influenced feedback to the statement: “I have enough information to do my job well.” While 68 percent of 2014 respondents agreed with that statement, it’s still down from 70 percent in 2013 and has steadily dropped over the past few years.

Forty-nine percent of VA employees reported being satisfied with their pay, the same as in 2013. Employees were particularly unhappy when it came to job performance and fairness: Twenty-eight percent said their work units took steps to deal with poor performers, while just 30 percent said promotions were based on merit. Pay raises also were a point of contention: Only 20 percent said they believed salary bumps “depend on how well employees perform their jobs.”

Still, VA employees reported a strong sense of mission and enthusiasm for their work, with 92 percent agreeing that what they do is important, 85 percent saying they enjoy their work and 92 percent supporting the statement: “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better.”

While VA employees were generally satisfied with work/life programs in their agencies, including telework, alternative work schedules, and child care programs, most said they do not -- or cannot -- take advantage of them. For instance, 88 percent of respondents said they don’t telework for one of the following reasons: they have to be physically present on the job, they don’t have the proper technical equipment, their supervisor hasn’t approved them for telework even though they are eligible, or they simply choose not to.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said that they did not participate in alternative work schedules because they opted not to, or it was not an available option. Just 4 percent of respondents said they used available child care programs, including daycare and parenting classes.

The department is one of several agencies that recently have released results from their individual 2014 viewpoint surveys; the Office of Personnel Management is expected to release the full governmentwide results later this fall.

The 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, administered to 84,862 VA employees and completed by 27,639 employees, had a response rate of 33 percent. VA administered it between May 6 and June 13 of this year.

Ross Gianfortune contributed to this report.

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