COVID‐19 Continues to Negatively Impact Government Employees

Today’s post comes to us from Neil Reichenberg, Former Executive Director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA‐HR). Neil is currently teaching a course on human resource management in the public sector at George Mason University.

Back in July, I wrote about a fascinating and important report issued by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state and local government employees. At the time, the report showed that public sector employees were deeply worried about their personal safety, family finances, job loss, furloughs, and pay and benefit reductions. SLGE has recently issued an update to this report, Update on Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19: May vs. October 2020, and I think there is great value in looking at how these workers we all depend on so much are faring as the pandemic approaches its one year anniversary.

A note before we delve into the results: the report was fielded from October 14 through November 2, 2020 so it does not reflect the results of the recent presidential election – we’ll have to wait for the next update (planned for later this year) to see what impact that significant change had – or didn’t have – on these issues.

The big takeaway here is that state and local government employees are feeling more stressed, fatigued, and anxious than they were when previously surveyed in May with 47% of them reporting feeling burnt out and fatigued up from 27% in May. 76% consider their jobs to be at least somewhat risky in terms of their potential exposure to people who may have COVID-19 up from 70% in May, and full-time remote work has decreased from 42% in May to 16% in October with almost three-quarters of those working in-person not being given a remote work option.

Survey respondents indicated the following impacts that COVID-19 has had on their jobs:

  • The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the nature of their jobs according to over 80% of respondents, with about 1 in 3 finding it either very or extremely difficult to adjust to these changes.
  • Twenty-five percent of respondents are struggling to balance work and home demands, with childcare being a key challenge.
  • Employees are less concerned in October as compared to May about possible pay or hours reduction as well as being furloughed.
  • An increased number of respondents do not believe that the risks they are taking are on par with their compensation and 11% more in October are thinking about changing jobs.
  • Job security, leave and health benefits are the job elements with which respondents are most satisfied.
  • Trust in all levels of government decreased from May to October, although there remains a significantly higher level of trust in state/local government leaders as compared to federal leaders.

In terms of the financial impact of the pandemic:

  • More than half reported that they and their family have suffered a negative financial impact, and this has remained constant from May to October.
  • Ten percent fewer expect the financial impact to be worse in the next year.
  • There was a small increase to 60% of respondents who said debt is a problem for them and their family, with 31% reporting they have had to take on more debt.
  • Almost half reported spending less money than usual since the start of the pandemic.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, a quarter of respondents said they have reduced their retirement savings and 40% have reduced their overall savings.
  • Overall, about 40% are concerned with being able to retire when they want, and a similar number are worried about being able to save enough to be financially secure throughout retirement.

Government employees who remain on the frontlines in fighting this pandemic continue to be negatively impacted. The survey results point to a need for governmental organizations to ensure that they are providing needed support and flexibility to support their workforces. The Congress should provide state and local governments with additional funding that will help to avoid further job losses and assist in bringing back some of those employees who have been furloughed.  

I look forward to writing again in a few months about the next iteration of this survey and I hope that the vast majority of workers are feeling – and doing – better by then. How are you feeling at work? Are you experiencing more burnout and fatigue than usual? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.



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