More than Half of State and Local Government Employees Contemplating Leaving Their Jobs Due to the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

 “We’re teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis”

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 27, 2022 – As state and local governments face unprecedented workforce shortages, an alarming number of public sector employees say they are considering leaving their jobs. A new MissionSquare Research Institute survey finds more than half (52%) of public sector workers are inclined to leave their jobs voluntarily – whether to change jobs, retire, or leave the workforce entirely – driven largely by burnout and compensation issues.
This research comes as the highly infectious omicron variant is putting even more demands on a beleaguered public sector workforce. Widespread omicron outbreaks in the workplace are making understaffing problems worse as the number of hospitalizations and deaths, largely among the unvaccinated, continue to climb in many areas of the country.
“We’re teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, PhD, MissionSquare Research Institute Senior Research Manager and lead author of the research. “We’re at the point where localities are calling in the National Guard to drive school buses, retired teachers are back in the classroom, firefighters are volunteering to work on their off days, and public health officials are seeking protection from abuse and threats. Clearly, this isn’t sustainable, and public services and safety are increasingly at risk.”
The findings are detailed in a new research infographic, The Great Resignation and COVID-19: Impact on Public Sector Employment and How Employers Can Help. View a video of the findings. 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.

“The research offers approaches that public sector employers can implement to prevent workers from walking out the door,” Liss-Levinson said. “According to employees, the top three actions their employers can take to retain workers are to increase salaries, offer bonuses, and show more appreciation for employees and the work that they do. Fortunately, we are seeing some jurisdictions moving in this direction, but the Great Resignation across the entire U.S. workforce makes retention all the more difficult for public employers.”

Additional research findings are as follows:

  • Working during the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered 36% of state and local workers to consider changing jobs. Respondents also expressed that they were considering retirement (33%) and/or leaving the workforce entirely for the foreseeable future (28%).


  • State and local workers say they are considering changing jobs because they want a higher salary or a better benefits package (52%), are burned out from stress during the pandemic (47%), and/or want better work-life balance (36%).


  • Public sector employees are considering retiring and/or leaving the workforce entirely due to pandemic burnout (42%), a desire to do things that bring joy (37%), and tension from working with the public [students’ parents] (26%).


  • Major factors that are triggering workers to leave their jobs voluntarily are pandemic stress (58%), COVID-19 safety concerns (52%), and a rethink of what they want to do (47%).


  • Employees say the top realistic actions employers can take to reduce stress include improving salaries (24%), increasing s
    taffing or reducing workload (15%), and providing emotional support (13%).
MissionSquare Research Institute will release the full survey results in February 2022.
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’ financial and employment outlooks and health and safety concerns. Visit the Institute’s COVID-19 and the Public Sector Workforce: Collected Resources for previous infographics and reports.
MissionSquare Research Institute promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations to attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings together leaders and respected researchers. More information and access to research and publications are available here.

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