US state and local governments ‘on the brink of a workforce crisis’

By on 31/01/2022 | Updated on 01/02/2022
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US employees across state and local government are considering leaving their jobs in increasingly large numbers, putting the sector at risk of a serious workforce shortage, according to new research.

A summary report by the MissionSquare Research Institute showed that more than half of all workers in the sector (52%) were thinking of leaving their jobs. The report is based on the results of a national survey involving 1,100 state and local government employees, which was carried out between November and December 2021.

“The latest data from a survey of public employees shows they are increasingly inclined to leave their jobs. But there are practical steps employers can take to stem resignations as we enter the next phase of the pandemic,” it said.

The institute warned that this meant the United States was “teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis”.

Reasons given by respondents stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic, with 58% of employees stating that “added stress due to the pandemic” had led them to think about leaving their roles, while 52% gave COVID safety concerns as their main reason for leaving. Around 47% of employees said “rethinking what they wanted to do” was the biggest motivating factor.

[Read more: One in ten US staff sought new job after shutdown, official survey finds]

Other major reasons given by respondents for wanting to leave their roles included wanting to change job within state and local government, entering retirement or otherwise wishing to leave the workforce altogether.

Those seeking either to change job or leave the workforce were found more likely to be below the age of 40, of African American descent, and at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work. Those looking towards retirement were likely to be aged 60 or more, earning at or above US$100,000 per year, and also at high risk of exposure.

Around 42% of those considering retirement or leaving the workforce cited feeling burnt out from the stress of their job during the pandemic, but overall, the top reason for employees wanting to change job (accounting for 52%) was the desire for a “higher salary or a better benefits package”.

[Read more: Most US federal staff don’t feel safe from COVID at work, survey finds]

According to the summary, around 25% of those considering changing jobs would like to leave the government sector entirely.

Respondents report increased workload

Six out of 10 respondents said their organisation had experienced an increase in the number of people leaving their jobs voluntarily since the start of the pandemic. Around eight out of 10 meanwhile said people leaving their jobs had put an added strain on their workload.

Participants were also asked what they believed governments could do to curb the effects of the ‘Great Resignation’, a term which since the start of the pandemic has described a trend of people seeking to leave their jobs across various sectors of the US economy.

A large proportion of respondents (62%) suggested improved salaries could decrease the number of public employees wishing to leave, while half suggested increasing offer bonuses would have the same effect.

Around 38% of respondents suggested “more appreciation and recognition of employees and the work they do” could lead to greater retention within state and local government. These factors outranked more measurable incentives, such as improved benefits, increased leave, more flexible scheduling, or more opportunities for work remotely.

The institute has been tracking state and local government employee sentiment since the start of the pandemic. The latest results follow previous surveys conducted in May 2021, October/November 2020, and May 2020, which each assessed the impact of the pandemic on public workers’ “financial and employment outlooks and health and safety concerns”.

[Read more :Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement]

According to MissionSquare summary, the final data used in the results were weighted by gender, age, income, and industry type to reflect “the distribution of the state and local government workforce as found in the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Census of Governments”.

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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