As the workforce emerges from a year online, telework can be leveraged for talent retention
With much of the government sector returning to an office following a year of remote work, municipal employees are rethinking priorities and reconsidering what they’d like that office environment to look like. Among the concrete recommendations that municipal employers can take to entice talent moving forward, flexible work hours and remote work opportunities rank high, according to a report from MissionSquare Research Institute released Tuesday that looks at government employment trends.
“As state and local government leaders navigate the road ahead and consider what the ‘new normal’ will look like, understanding their employees’ views on the COVID-19 vaccine—and the financial, personal and job impacts that the pandemic has had and continues to have—will help ensure that public sector organizations remain employers of choice and can successfully recruit, retain and retire a talented and diverse workforce of the future,” says the report, which cited a few surveys that followed more than 1,200 government employees starting last May.
The surveys were conducted by Greenwald Research.
Over the last six months, the report notably found that moral has generally increased among government employees, with many reporting “a sense of pride working during the pandemic and that the pandemic has made their work feel more meaningful,” the report says. But at the same time, “one in three still indicate that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs, with many of those considering leaving the public sector entirely.”
There could be a number of reasons for this expressed desire among respondents to leave municipal work, some of which can be inferred tangentially from the report: Nearly one in three state and local government workers took on more debt in the last year; 38 percent of workers had to dip into an emergency fund to make ends meet. Thirty-one percent of workers said it’s been extremely difficult to adjust to COVID-induced job changes.
“Respondents were most likely to report feeling stressed (42 percent), burnt-out/fatigued (42 percent) and anxious (31 percent). Since May 2020, there have been large shifts in the emotions that respondents are feeling while at work about the COVID-19 pandemic, showing several distinct patterns,” the report says.
For municipal leaders, those patterns present both positive and negative trends.
On the one hand, a clear picture emerges from the data that points to an overall improvement in employee moral, particularly over last fall when the pandemic was at its height: Depression is down; so is loneliness, pessimism, fear and anxiety. Burnout, however, remains high.
There could be a solution outlined in the survey.
In looking to the future, among the top three suggestions respondents had for how municipal employers could make their organization a better place to be, “allowing work from home/remote work and flexible hours (20 percent)” ranked second, behind issuing raises and bonuses.
More than a year into the pandemic, the upward trend of remote work has been established in all sections of American life—in both the public and private sectors. Research from Upwork says that more than 20 percent of the American workforce is expected to be working online through 2025. And an analysis from McKinsey Global Institute estimates that “More than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, that would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic and would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.”
The implications of such a change on commerce, transpiration, education and just about every area of municipal government are profound. Offices could shrink, sending ripples across all sectors of the local economy—restaurants, hotels, housing, bars and shops that cater to office workers could suffer loses, putting a dent in local tax revenues.
As this trend in remote work become more solidified, employees will undoubtedly expect employers to offer flexibility. Along with everyone else, government agencies are going to have to pivot in order to retain and recruit employees into the public sector.
In return-to-work guidelines issued last month, the Biden Administration upheld the flexible practices put into place because of the pandemic—including remote and hybrid situations—advising they should continue even after the coronavirus danger has passed.
All federal employees who’ve been teleworking for the last year “generally will remain eligible for telework, at least on a situational basis,” says the memo, which was signed by heads in the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration.
In it, the administration acknowledges the effectiveness of remote work and says telework should be leveraged as a tool by managers whenever possible to ensure “the federal government is a model employer, with the health, safety, and physical and mental wellbeing of its workforce paramount. Agency leaders can leverage issues such as telework, remote work and flexible work schedules as tools in their broader strategies for talent recruitment and retention, and for advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce.”