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According to Research Conducted by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC, State and Local Employees’ Negative Job Sentiments Are Climbing

January 28, 2021

Employee Burnout and Fatigue Jumped from 27% in May to 47% in October; More Than Half Say Pandemic Has Harmed Personal Finances

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis are taking a heavy toll on the state and local workforce. Since the early days of the pandemic, negative job sentiment is on the rise. In an October national survey, 52% reported feeling stressed, 47% said they are burned out and fatigued, and 44% were anxious at work. Also, 54% of state and local employees said they have been negatively impacted financially by the pandemic.

These findings are contained in a new report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC, Update on Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19: May vs. October 2020. Download the report here.

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"We're seeing troubling trends regarding the impact of the pandemic on the state and local workforce. These employees — first responders, health professionals, teachers, and others — remain on the front lines of the pandemic, but without adequate resources," said Rivka Liss-Levinson, Ph.D., Senior Research Manager at the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC. "The research tells us that these public employees are feeling the pain in multiple ways — from stress and burnout to financial concerns," she said.   

"These workforce issues are problematic in both the short and long term. Employees aren't positioned to deliver critical public services at an optimal level, and employers will face even bigger challenges recruiting and retaining qualified workers in the years to come. We hope these findings are helpful to stakeholders across the nation who are making consequential budget and workforce decisions," she said.

"Given these unprecedented times we are living through, an increase of 75% in burnout and fatigue among state and local employees, while understandable, is extremely concerning," said Orlando Cruz, Senior Vice President at ICMA-RC. "Building on lessons from almost a year of working virtually with most of our clients, we have enhanced the resources available for those who serve their communities to help alleviate stresses, especially as it relates to meeting their savings and retirement goals. By actively engaging our participants in the manner convenient to them ­—  whether in person, on the phone, or by video conference — our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals and Retirement Plans Specialists are continuing to provide educational tools, guidance, and resources to help lessen some of the financial burdens associated with retirement planning. We are doing our part to help as we all learn to adapt and navigate through this terrible pandemic."

Key findings contained in the report are as follows:  

General COVID Concerns

  • Respondents in October felt stressed (52%), burned out/fatigued (47%), and anxious (44%). Both fear and stress increased from May to October and burnout/fatigue jumped from 27% in May to 47% in October.
  • Feelings that the risks they are taking during the pandemic are not on par with their compensation jumped from 32% in May to 48% in October. Similarly, sentiment that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs increased from 20% in May to 31% in October.
  • Like the results from May, respondents in October were most concerned about keeping their family safe from contracting the virus (81%) and staying protected from contracting the virus at work (78%).
  • Trust in all levels of government decreased from May to October. While 67% reported a fair amount/great deal of trust in state and/or in local government leaders in May, this fell to 54% for local leaders and 50% for state leaders in October. Trust in federal government leaders was even lower with only 29% indicating a fair amount/great deal of trust in federal leaders in October (down from 39% in May).

Job Impact

  • In October, 76% considered their job at least somewhat risky in terms of their potential exposure to COVID-19, up from 70% in May.
  • One in four respondents in October said it has been very or extremely difficult to balance the demands of work and homelife since the start of the pandemic. A key challenge has been childcare, with 78% of those with children under the age of 18 working from home while also caring for their children.
  • There has been a significant shift in remote work from May to October, with full-time remote work decreasing from 42% in May to 16% in October. Among the 51% engaging in any remote work in October, only 22% had worked remotely prior to the pandemic.
  • 72% of those working in-person in October did not have a choice regarding remote work.
  • In October, 82% of respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the nature of their job, similar to the 85% level in May. At both time points, about one in three indicated it has been very or extremely difficult adjusting to the changes.

Financial Impact

  • More than half of respondents (54% in October and 56% in May) have been negatively impacted financially by the pandemic.
  • In October, 60% said debt is a problem for their family, up from 57% in May. Since the start of the pandemic, 31% have had to take on more debt.
  • Among the 72% with a partially or fully funded emergency fund in October, 40% had to spend money from the fund since the start of the pandemic to make ends meet.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, 26% have reduced their retirement savings, and 40% have reduced their general savings. Far fewer have increased their retirement savings (9%) or their general savings (19%).

Satisfaction with Employer and Benefits

  • Overall, less than half of respondents (46%) were very or extremely satisfied with their employer in October, while 17% were not too satisfied or not at all satisfied.
  • The elements of their job that they were most satisfied with are job security, their leave benefits (both 62%), and their health insurance (59%). In contrast, only 25% were very or extremely satisfied with their non-traditional benefits.
  • The most appealing non-traditional benefits to respondents were flexible work scheduling (70%), along with physical wellness programs and employee assistance programs (both 41%).

Information for this report is from an online survey of full-time state and local government employees fielded by Greenwald Research in May 2020 (n=1,008) and October 2020 (n=1,205). Final data for both surveys were weighted by gender, age, income, and industry type to reflect the distribution of the state and local government workforce as found in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Census of Governments.

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