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Exodus of Employees is Increasing Strain on Public Sector Workforce According to New MissionSquare Research Institute Study

March 10, 2022

Workers Highlight Steps Their Employers Can Take to Help with Recruitment and Retention

More than half of state and local government employees report that more people are leaving jobs at their organization since the start of the pandemic, leaving their remaining coworkers stressed, fatigued, and anxious, according to a new public sector workforce survey conducted by MissionSquare Research Institute

Among those employees who are seeing more of their coworkers depart, nearly four out of five (78%) said the departures put a strain on their workload. When asked to describe how they feel about the pandemic while at work, respondents were most likely to report feeling stressed (44%), burned out or fatigued (42%), and/or anxious (39%). Also, nearly one quarter of state and local workers (23%) say they have taken on more debt due to the pandemic than they would have otherwise.

This research comes as COVID-19 and the Great Resignation continue to have a deep impact on the state and local government workforce. More than half (52%) of public employees are inclined to leave their jobs voluntarily – whether to change jobs, retire, or leave the workforce entirely.  

The findings are detailed in a new research report, Survey Results:  Continued Impact of COVID-19 on Public Sector Employee Job and Financial Outlook, Satisfaction, and Retention. The results are based on a national survey of 1,100 state and local government employees fielded by Greenwald Research in November and December 2021.

A webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23 at 2 PM ET to review the research. Register here.

“The double whammy of COVID-19 and the Great Resignation clearly is putting additional strain on an already beleaguered public sector workforce,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, PhD, MissionSquare Research Institute Senior Research Manager and lead author of the research report. “However, employees feel their employers can take concrete actions to help with recruitment and retention – from bumping up salaries and offering bonuses to recognizing employees for the important public services they are delivering. We hope this research helps state and local leaders understand the full scope of employee sentiment to help craft solutions that will address the looming public workforce crisis.” 

Additional research findings are as follows:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on the nature of public employees’ jobs. More than three in four (76%) say COVID-19 has impacted what they do, where they work, and how they go about the tasks required.
  • To reduce employee stress, respondents were most likely to recommend that employers provide salary increases (24%), hire more staff or reduce workload (15%), or provide emotional support, including respect, acknowledgment, and encouragement (13%).
  • Nearly one in four respondents (23%) indicate it has been extremely or very difficult to balance both work and homelife demands during the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, unchanged since May 2021.
  • Nearly half of respondents (46%) reported that the pandemic has created tension in how the public (or in the case of K-12 employees, students’ parents) interact with them.
  • The three elements of their job that respondents were most satisfied with are job security (64% were extremely or very satisfied), leave benefits (60%), and health insurance (59%). In contrast, fewer than one in three were very or extremely satisfied with their salary, nontraditional benefits (like tuition or child care assistance), and/or potential for career advancement.
  • Nearly two in three respondents (63%) agreed that the policies their employer has implemented during the pandemic have been fair to all employees. However, they also indicated that the pandemic has created tension in their working relationship with coworkers (38%) and with their supervisor (24%).
  • When asked about working in the public sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents were most likely to report that they value serving their community during this difficult time (59%).

This research follows previous polling conducted in May 2021, October/November 2020, and May 2020 to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public workers. Visit the Institute’s COVID-19 and the Public Sector Workforce: Collected Resources for previous infographics and reports.

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