Report Details the Impact of COVID‐19 on Government Workforces

Today’s post comes to us from Neil Reichenberg, Former Executive Director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA‐HR).


Since 2009, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA‐RC has issued an annual state and local government workforce trends report. The 2021 report, which is based on survey responses from 288 state/local government human resource professionals details the impact that the COVID‐19 pandemic had on state and local governments.

Like other sectors, flexible work arrangements were much more common, with 53% of respondents indicating their organizations offer regular telework for eligible positions – almost twice what it was in the previous year’s survey. The telework option is dependent on the department in which employees work, with it being least likely an option for those working in public safety and public works.


Other survey results that the pandemic impacted included:
 Travel or training restrictions reported by 2/3 of responding organizations
 Hiring freezes were implemented by 1/3 of responding organizations
 38% indicated that retirement eligible employees had accelerated their retirement dates
 For employee retention and development, two of the top three items reported were employee assistance programs/mental health support (91%) and leave benefits: COVID-related quarantine/isolation leave (69%).


While 54% of respondents believe that on gender, their organizations are reflective of the larger community, this dropped to 38% when considering whether their organizations were reflective of the larger community on racial/ethnic diversity. Larger state and local governments with at least 500 full‐time employees are significantly more likely to report that their organizations are reflective of the community for both gender and racial/ethnic diversity as compared to smaller governments. Respondents stated that their organizations were taking steps to address gender and racial/ethnic diversity.

The survey also obtained information about hard to fill positions, skills they are seeking, compensation competitiveness, employee retention and development issues, and future priorities which are summarized below.

State and local governments indicated that the hardest to fill positions include:
 Nursing
 Corrections
 Health Care
 Policing
 Mental Health Professionals & Physicians
 Skilled Trades
 Dispatch

The respondents reported that they are receiving fewer qualified applicants than available positions for registered nurses, engineers, police, information technology, and maintenance workers.


Skill sets that are sought include analytical/critical thinking, interpersonal, management, technology, and written communications.


Consistent with past years, the survey shows that human resource professionals are more likely to believe the benefits offered to their employees are competitive with the labor market – 92%, as compared to wages where only 60% believe they are competitive with the labor market.

The top three reasons cited by departing employees were: retirement (51%), advancement with another public employer (36%), and non‐competitive compensation (30%).

When asked about future priorities, the top issues cited by at least 75% of respondents were:
 Employee Morale
 Competitive Compensation Package
 Employee Engagement
 Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel with Needed Skills
 Employee Development: Leadership


The impact of the pandemic on the workforce has resulted in governmental organizations implementing or strengthening programs designed to provide mental health assistance and to increase flexible working options. Governments are increasingly concerned with employee morale, with this becoming the top future priority in this year’s survey. As governments focus on ensuring a positive employee experience, the health and safety of employees will be
important considerations. Providing flexibility will help to retain the critical talent that governments need to ensure that they can meet the needs of citizens.

One thought on “Report Details the Impact of COVID‐19 on Government Workforces

  1. Hi Neil – great research info and highly relevant. I wonder if and/or how closely workplace flexibility and mental wellness are linked. And, employee morale is especially impacted whenever a crises appears, and how companies respond when considering how to support employees during such a crisis can often mean the difference between low and high turnover.

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