Mapping Veterans’ and Employees’ Journeys to Spark Systemic Change

“You share. We listen. We act.”

This mantra has been on repeat over the past two years. Focused on the mission to ensure an inclusive, responsive, seamless and employee-centric experience through which all team members feel valued and supported, Airis McCottry Gill and her team at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Experience Office (VEO) have sparked systematic change that will ultimately impact more than 400,000 employees’ journeys. 

Ms. Gill comes from a long line of public servants and Veterans that influenced her career. As VEO’s Executive Director of Employee Experience and Organizational Management, Ms. Gill draws from her personal history to understand the importance of gathering feedback and building trusted relationships.  She reminds herself of who she is representing and serving every day when she sees her screensaver –- her grandfather’s World War II Draft Card. Ms. Gill began her public service journey at the General Services Administration (GSA) focusing on customer service. This eventually led to her spearheading employee experience efforts, including the launch of the Journeys of VA Employees Map, in 2020.

The Journeys of VA Employees Map project created a series of firsts for Ms. Gill and the VEO team. This level of employee experience (EX) research had not been conducted in the federal government space and conducting in-depth interviews at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic produced its own set of unique logistical challenges. The team quickly shifted from in-person to virtual interviews, allowing the work to expand geographically from nine to 33 regions. Researchers found that employees wanted to share, desired to be heard, and for the Department to do something with the information that was being collected.

“You share.”

The Veterans Experience team spoke with VA employees from across the country to capture the diversity of their experiences. The stories emphasized employees’ deeply positive relationships with the VA as well as opportunities to improve the employee experience. Employees shared specific information about their journey, moments that mattered, bright spots, and pain points.

“We listen.”

The Veterans Experience team utilized a human-centered design approach to understand VA employees’ experiences. Beginning with qualitative research— including interviews and interactive research activities— the team gained a comprehensive perspective of the lives and needs of employees across multiple geographies, tenures, and types of roles. The research team curated a research sample of over 11,000+ data points from in-depth interviews.

This extensive research provided the team with a detailed understanding of VA employees: who they are, what they need and hope for, and what they expect.

“We act.”

Out of this research, the team developed a VA employee experience tool as a first step towards creating or enhancing new programs and services to benefit VA employees. Some of the new programs and services being developed and piloted to date include:

  • Welcome Kits
  • Anonymous Job Applications
  • My Buddy Program
  • actiVAte
  • Monthly “Ask Me Anything” Sessions
  • Identity Insights

Ms. Gill and her innovative team continue to evaluate ease, effectiveness, and emotion to ensure the employee experience is improving and addressing new needs. The Journeys of VA Employees Map was recognized as the first-of-its-kind across the federal sector and operationalized to make a difference in VA employees’ experience, ultimately trickling down to positively impact Veterans, families, caregivers, and survivors. The lessons learned throughout this project are currently being shared with other agencies in hopes of improving employee experience across the federal work environment.

When asked how we can support our Veterans, Ms. Gill smiled and enthusiastically responded, “Listening to what our Veterans, families, and caregivers have to share…and finding ways to help.”

If you are interested in becoming of a part of the Veterans Affairs’ mission, please visit