Public School Employees Continue to Be Negatively Impacted by the Pandemic

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.

As schools increasingly resume either full or part-time in-person education or move to a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, K-12 public school employees report increased stress, fatigue and anxiety based on a recent report issued by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. The report contains information from an October 2020 survey of 1,205 state and local government employees of which, 494 were public school employees. The report also includes comparative information from a similar survey conducted in March 2020 with the most dramatic change being the sharp decline in general satisfaction with the employer which fell from 69% in March 2020 to 44% in October 2020.

Public school employees report a greater impact from the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to other state and local government employees. Other key findings from the report include:

  • K-12 employees reported feeling stressed (63%), burnt out/fatigued (54%), and/or anxious (47%) at work due to the pandemic and these are significantly higher percentages than other state and local government employees.
  • Over 40% reported working more hours than they had prior to the pandemic due most often to the extra work that online/remote work entails (78%), an increased number of parent or student meetings/communications (52%), and an increased number of work meetings/communications (50%).
  • By a 20% margin (55% to 35%), K-12 employees reported that the pandemic has significantly impacted the nature of their jobs as compared to other government employees, and nearly half indicated that the adjustment was extremely or very difficult. While 44% of other government workers rated the adjustment as not too difficult or not at all difficult, only 20% of K-12 employees agreed.
  • K-12 employees were most satisfied with the quality of their colleagues/coworkers and the ability to serve their community (both 58%), their job security (57%), and the personal satisfaction they get from their job (56%). They were least satisfied with their salary (27%), the potential for career advancement (25%), and nontraditional benefits (22%).
  • While K-12 employees were significantly more likely than other government employees to believe that the pandemic has made the public more aware of the importance of what they do (58% for K-12 vs. 35% for other government), they were also significantly more likely than other government employees to report that the risks they are taking during the pandemic are not on par with their compensation (55% vs. 44%), and that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs (38% vs. 25%).
  • As more K-12 employees return to their respective schools, they are most likely to be concerned about keeping their family safe from contracting COVID-19, staying protected from contracting the virus at work, and/or having their employee benefits package reduced in some way.
  • To ensure safe in-person education, K-12 employees strongly or somewhat agreed that their employers were limiting essential activities and gatherings (73%), training staff on steps to protect themselves (68%), and enacting protocols for a reasonable amount of social distancing (66%).

The survey results point out the need for public school leaders to provide compassionate leadership, offer flexibility to employees, and focus on the wellbeing of employees during these stressful times. Failure to do so could result in the loss of experienced talent that will negatively impact school systems for many years to come.

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