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State and local governments are, as one expert puts it, "teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis."
Over half of state and local government employees are thinking about leaving their jobs, according to research released on Thursday. The statistic presents a red flag for public sector managers already dealing high rates of turnover and struggling to hire.
The survey findings, from MissionSquare Research Institute, a nonprofit that studies government workforce issues, show that about 52% of state and local public sector workers are considering abandoning their jobs for different positions, retiring, or otherwise leaving the workforce. Burnout and inadequate pay are two reasons employees pointed to for feeling this way, the survey found.
“If you’re working in state and local government and you’re not considering leaving your job, the person sitting next to you is,” Rivka Liss-Levinson, the lead author of the research, told Route Fifty. “I think it’s safe to say that we are definitely teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis."
Respondents to the survey included 1,100 state and local government employees, in fields like public safety, health and human services, education, administration and finance. The survey was designed to provide a nationally representative sample of the state and local workforce. The poll was conducted in November and December.
Many state and local agencies have been struggling with retention and recruitment—especially when it comes to professions such as policing, public health, truck driving and IT.
Employees in some parts of the public sector, like teachers and first responders, have been worn down by the at-work demands of a pandemic now entering its third year. At the same time, the private sector is hungry for help, giving employees keen on switching jobs more options than in the past. And baby boomers are retirement age.
MissionSquare has tracked state and local public employee sentiment throughout the pandemic. Previously, the group asked about whether people were considering changing jobs. The share of respondents who said they were increased from 20% around the time Covid hit in early 2020, to 36% during the November-December 2021 timeframe.
This is the first survey report where researchers added responses from those public sector workers interested in retirement or leaving the workforce entirely with those from people who said they wanted to change jobs. This combination of people weighing any or all of these options is what yielded the 52% figure.
Stress and burnout due to the pandemic and concerns about safety due to Covid-19 were among the leading reasons survey respondents highlighted when asked why they were considering leaving their positions. Although about half of people looking to switch jobs said they were seeking better pay and benefits.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said a way employers can prevent resignations is by boosting pay and about a half said offering or increasing bonuses. But Liss-Levinson noted that showing more appreciation and recognition for employees and the work they do also ranked well here—even better, in fact, than options like flexible schedules and remote work opportunities, she said.
“I think that’s something that can make a huge difference," Liss-Levinson said of demonstrating appreciation and recognition for employees. "This is an area where employers can really make a difference right now," she added. "And it’s not a high cost solution."
More details on the survey results, such as how workers in different fields responded, will be released in February. For now, MissionSquare has issued a fact sheet with some of the high-level findings.
Bill Lucia is executive editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.