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The Pandemic Continues to Impact the Public Sector Workforce

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

MissionSquare Research Institute, formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, released updated survey results on the impact of COVID-19 on the state and local government workforce. While the morale of state and local government employees increased in this survey by 15% to 56%, there were 31% of survey respondents who stated that, due to the pandemic, they are considering changing jobs, with one-quarter indicating they want to stop working in the public sector. The results are based on a survey of 1,203 full-time state and local government employees that was conducted in May 2021. Previous surveys were undertaken in May and October 2020.

Going forward, keeping their families safe from contracting the virus is the overwhelming top concern cited by 81% of respondents, followed by staying protected from contracting the virus at work (64%). The other top concerns focused on benefits, pay, or hours reductions and being furloughed or losing their jobs. Close to 80% reported that the pandemic has impacted the nature of their jobs.

State and local employees have positive feelings about working in the public sector during the pandemic, with:

  • 60% reporting that they value serving their communities during this difficult time, 
  • 47% stating that working in the public sector is a source of pride, and
  • 40% believing that the pandemic makes their work feel more meaningful.

Despite the positive feelings, there are 50% who indicated that the risks they are taking during the pandemic are not on a par with their compensation and 31% who are considering changing jobs. Stressed, burned out, fatigued, and anxious are the top emotions that survey respondents reported. Over 40% noted a negative financial impact from the pandemic, with 31% reporting that they have taken on more debt. Almost 80% declared that the pandemic has impacted the nature of their jobs. The respondents recommended the following actions that employers could take to improve the workplace:

  • Increase compensation either through bonuses or raises (21%),
  • Allow remote work and flexible hours (20%),
  • Follow CDC guidelines and provide personal protective equipment (17%), and
  • Expand benefits (10%).

A little over half reported that they were extremely or very satisfied with their employer and trust their leadership to make good decisions regarding employee safety. The respondents are most satisfied with their job security, leave benefits, and health insurance.

Governments have been on the front lines in fighting the pandemic and need to ensure that they can recruit and retain the talent they need to continue to provide critical government services. Public sector leaders should be concerned about the large percentage of employees who are considering leaving their jobs, coupled with a previous MissionSquare report in which governments reported that 38% of their employees are accelerating their retirement plans due to the pandemic. As public employees return to work, with 58% indicating they are now working fully in person, governments need to be empathetic, communicate the safety plans they have implemented to address employee concerns, and, to the extent possible, provide employees with flexibility.

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