Local Government Turnover During COVID-19

Posted on November 15, 2021


Local government turnover during covid

This research report was written by Katie Webster, Jessica Giles, and Wesley Merritt from the UNC MPA program. ELGL assisted with the survey distribution to gain a better understanding of the reasons people left local government careers during the pandemic.


Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a variety of employment implications on the working world. From adjusting to remote work to dealing with an overload of tasks, the pandemic has created a new layer of stress and concerns for employees, and local government organizations in the United States are no exception.

Collectively, talented people have been leaving local government at exceptionally high rates, a trend exacerbated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with millions of jobs shed since March 2020, and this paper’s aim is to determine why they are leaving (Maciag and Rosewicz 2020). This study will begin with a brief analysis of existing research surrounding the topic of local government turnover and will provide a theoretical lens through which to consider the research question and recommendations.

Existing literature informed the study’s survey on turnover intention and influenced the paper’s hypothesis and recommendations. As is discussed below, research and theory about turnover agrees that while there is no one reason for all turnover during a period (Allen, Bryant, and Vardaman, 2010), COVID-19 acted as an external shock that worsened the issues of burnout, flexibility, and safety concerns (Khawaja et. al, 2021). Remote work and accommodating schedules were at the forefront of perceived solutions (Facer, Llorens, and Wadsworth, 2018).

Following the literature review, the method used to uncover local government turnover intention during COVID-19 will be outlined, discussing both the surveys and interviews of local government employees that made up a mixed-methods approach to the issue. Finally, findings will be used to supply recommendations in response to local government turnover intentions. 

Turnover Intention and Theory: A Review of Literature

To begin dissecting prior research about turnover, this study and its recommendations will partially rely on a theoretical approach to employee retention and turnover. This approach will provide general trends in both turnover and retention strategies, which guides the hypotheses development, survey development, and recommendations through its theories. Allen, Bryant and Vardaman’s 2010 study begins by elaborating on misconceptions concerning retention, with two being relevant to this study’s research into turnover intention within local government.

The two misconceptions state that people quit their jobs because of compensation and because they are dissatisfied with their jobs (Allen, Bryant, and Vardaman, 2010). These two misconceptions try to give generalized, universal reasons for turnover at any given time, but as elaborated later, any turnover intention generalization is likely faulty and needs further explanation. Moynihan also finds more contributing factors in his study “Explaining Turnover Intention in State Government: Examining the Roles of Gender, Life Cycle and Loyalty,” which focuses on Texas state government turnover intention through three theoretical issues of gender, life cycle and loyalty.

The results of this 2008 study found that age, experience, and geographic preference play significant roles in the reluctance to change jobs, females are significantly less likely to announce the intention to quit, organizational loyalty and empowerment reduce turnover intention, with voice playing little role in turnover intention (Moynihan, 2008). The scope of this research intends to discover how COVID-19 has changed these outcomes by learning why more women are quitting now, and what role age, experience, and location play a role in turnover intention.

Allen, Bryant, and Vardeman disband common turnover misconceptions by presenting evidence that there is no generalized, single reason that most people quit their jobs. Instead, they present four main paths to turnover in a model titled the “Unfolding Model of Turnover”. This study’s hypothesis relies on this model for theoretical grounding because these paths can each incapsulate many intentions while still categorizing the development of different intentions.

The first path of this model is dissatisfaction, in which people leave their jobs over factors like workplace conditions, attitudes, or workload. The second path concerns an alternative position, in which people would leave their job that they are satisfied with for a position that is more attractive. The third path involves quitting due to external events or “shocks”, where conditions outside of the workplace affect the workplace or one’s feelings towards work. The final path of turnover concerns impulsive resignations, where there are no alternative positions or scripts readily in place (Allen, Bryant, and Vardeman, 2010). This model informs the overarching trends of turnover within ranging circumstances and provides themes to consider during the development of this study’s hypothesis.

Within the scope of local government during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study hypothesizes that Vardaman’s third path of turnover is most at fault, meaning that people are not leaving their positions because they are dissatisfied with the job itself, but that an external shock affected both workplace operations and employee morale. Within this path, several different turnover intentions are predicted to be uncovered. Schyns et. al defines “turnover intention” as an employee’s intention to voluntarily change jobs or companies, which has a positive association with an employee’s readiness for change (Schyns et. Al, 1996).

Additionally, as staff turnover, this can also lead to future turnover in the organization, supported through Castle’s research in the long-term care staffing realm. A study of 419 facilities found that when administrators and directors left a facility, there was a following increase in departure of care staff and nurses (Castle, 2005). Therefore, the loss of higher-level employees should be considered as a contributing factor to turnover intention. To further uncover the role of turnover intentions, this paper takes an in-depth, mixed-methods approach. The aim of this study’s survey is to compile surface level intentions, while the interviews and open-ended questions provide a crucial narrative to the complex issue of turnover. However, this hypothesis is still broad, so further research helps narrow the hypothesis to be more measurable within the scope of this paper.

Further specifying, Wadsworth, Llorens, and Facer aimed to look at turnover intention in local government and how certain workplace aspects can deter intention to exit. The research evaluated the relationship between work flexibility and turnover intention by using a cross-sectional quantitative model where several cities across six different states embracing alternative work schedules provided their organizational turnover rates. Plausibly because of common workplace intention factors, like burnout and a need of work-life balance, this study finds that a workplace integration of schedule flexibilities could deter many local government employees from leaving their position (Facer, Llorens, and Wadsworth, 2018).

As feelings of burnout would expectedly be exacerbated with the increased workload level that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings of this study are extremely relevant to the scope of this research. If overworking, burnout, and a need for work-life balance are among the top reasons local government employees consider leaving their position without the stress of a pandemic, these results are expected to mirror that of the survey and interviews. If these results are extended through the pandemic, this study also provides a base of a possible recommendation to deter turnover, which is the use of flexible schedules in local government. 

To further bolster the position that COVID-19 acted as an external shock to employees and workplace normality, a case study from the hospitality career field illustrates an experience of the workforce during the pandemic. Nearly 400 employees participated in this study, all giving their opinions on how COVID-19 had affected their mental health at large and the impact on their attitudes towards work. The study finds that COVID-19 has a significant psychological effect on mental health and the development of turnover intention. This is stated to be because workplace stressors, like the pandemic, are related to aggression and withdrawal behavior. It is implied that most of the stress that comes along with COVID-19 are safety worries and the concern of changing routine (Khawaja et. al, 2021). In fact, in the hospitality industry the working employees were more likely to experience psychological distress than their furloughed counterparts (Bufquin et. Al, 2020). This aids in creating the necessity of further research into employee safety concerns as a significant turnover intention. This study intends to fill that gap by specifically asking public sector employees about COVID-19 safety concerns and how those concerns interact with participants’ decision to leave local government.

Also, it should be noted that this study recommends that managers create strategies that adapt the workplace to better accommodate the worries that come along with COVID-19. These strategies reportedly include creating COVID-19 training programs, and having consistent protocol (Khawaja et. al, 2021). Considering both the theoretical research and specified evidence, this paper hypothesizes that there are three major turnover intentions during COVID-19 for local government employees: safety and infection concerns, burnout, and a lack of flexibility. 

Employee Retention Strategies: A Review of Literature

The following studies and approaches focus on how organizations can combat turnover through various retention strategies. These findings will inform the development of this paper’s recommendations to combat COVID-related turnover within local government.  To return to the approach of Allen, Bryant, and Vardaman, the final disbanded misconception that “there is little that managers can do to prevent turnover” can be applied to the recommendation section at the conclusion of this study.

To disprove this, the researchers provide a chart in the article with categories of workplace life (like engagement, rewards, supervision, etc.) along with accompanying retention strategies. These strategies inform possible recommendations for this paper’s conclusion and were crucial in developing the research process. For example, in the “Engagement” category, the article recommends managers design positions to increase meaningfulness, autonomy and variety. Another relevant example is in the “Rewards” category and advises that management tailors rewards to individual needs and preferences. Notably, these compiled strategies will act as guides in the latter part of this paper to provide context-bound recommendations focused on local government in the time of COVID-19.

Research generally agrees that engagement has a negative relationship to turnover. However, it is noted that leadership style greatly affects lower-employee engagement and therefore turnover, which parallels the logic of the theories above. A study in the Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences upheld this idea in their quantitative study of teachers. They found that transformative leaders, whose values emphasize enthusiasm, missions, and a clear set of values opposed to self-interest, have large positive effects on employee engagement, and inevitably on preventing turnover (Lacap, 2009). This means that a high level of leadership morale and enthusiasm can positively affect employees’ feelings towards work. If this study’s survey findings display burnout and lack of flexibility due to leadership, these recommendations could be crucial for retention purposes. 

Focusing on retention strategies, a study in the International Journal of Economics and Business Administration investigated motivation strategies for employees working in dangerous conditions like the COVID-19 pandemic (Martono et. al, 2020). To yield specified results, these researchers compiled specialized studies describing work motivation and applied the context of the pandemic. Ultimately, the study found that, in times of dangerous conditions, organizations must pay special attention to the safety and security of employees, establishing policies supporting their needs (Martono et. al, 2020). They also list two specific employee motivation recommendations within the context of COVID-19, which are remote work options and flexible shift options. Mirroring other research in the field, this continues to inform recommendations within the scope of this study, if flexibility and safety concerns are captured in participant responses. Additionally, to ensure relevant results are obtained, survey questions will explore the ideas of safety, remote work, and flexibility.

Finally, to reinforce the emphasis that COVID-19 has put on remote work and the necessity of flexibility, there is rich research into this specific factor. First, a case study considering workplace culture in Nordin countries aimed to determine if these individualistic cultures show an inverse relationship between the presence of work from home options and turnover rates. The results of their study upheld that hypothesis and stated that this relationship was at its highest in individualistic workplace cultures where employees and employers collaborate on policy and decision-making (Kilaniotis and Stavrou, 2020). Embracing a collaborative and empowering culture when it comes to decisions like scheduling could decrease stress levels on local government employees and allow for an increased sense of control could be an effective strategy for retaining employees.

Additionally, through conducting a similar survey, researcher Ramesh Durbarry displays results that parallel most of the other research in the field, which states that public sector employees view the risk to catch the virus highest at the workplace. This inevitably evokes the stress and concerns outlined in the research above. This implies that remote work would once again be a plausible solution to these concerns. However, it also outlines that remote work can be a challenging and stressful shift, in which it suggests through survey results that supervisor support is crucial especially during times of work from home. Perceived supervisor support is hereby directly related to employee motivation (Durbarry, 2021).

So, while the surface results echo other recommendations for schedule flexibility and work from home options, these results present an interesting caveat that considers the greater need for supervisor-employee relationships when utilizing potential accommodations. Overall, these findings further inform potential recommendations in a deeper way, in suggesting that using a remote work model may not be enough to fully support and retain public sector employees during the external shock of the pandemic. Additionally, inquiring about additional needs aside from physical safety is crucial for uncovering the layers of these employees’ turnover intentions. These recommendations supplemented with those of other research in the field all agree at large, suggesting that flexibility, safety protocols, and remote work options are the most plausible solutions for burnout and other COVID-related stressors. 

Methods

During the fall of 2020, researchers leveraged Engaging Local Government Leader’s social networks to distribute a survey titled Government Turnover During the COVID-19 Pandemic (see Appendix A) that included ten questions, a mix of closed-and-opened questions, assessing respondents’ beliefs and experiences that influenced their departure from a local government position. The introduction of the survey gathers basic demographic information, including gender, age, time in role before exiting, and size of community worked in. Question three branches respondents to two directions based on whether they exited a local government role. If a respondent selected voluntarily or involuntarily, this would branch them to the next section where questions assessed factors relating to local government departure.

The hypothesis is primarily tested through questions six and seven. Question six uses thirteen Likert scale questions (see appendix 3), measuring agreement with a series of sentiments describing various workplace and employment factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Question seven identifies factors that respondents had used or would use in seeking future employment (see appendix 4). Lastly, respondents were provided with an open-ended section to share any additional thoughts related to their turnover experience. At the end of this survey branch, participants were able to provide an email address if they were open to a brief virtual interview with MPA researchers. Twenty-five individuals supplied email addresses to be contacted by and seven 30 to 60-minute interviews were conducted with respondents who were located throughout the United States. The participants of the survey ranged greatly in position area and size of municipality.

The second branch pertains to those who indicated “I have not exited a government role since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic” or “I am planning to exit my current government role.” These respondents were then branched to an open-ended question asking “do you have any observations or experiences with staff turnover or departures that you would like to share?” One limitation of this survey is that the fourth response “I am planning to exit my current government role” was added partway through data collection after trends were recognized in open-ended responses of those who hadn’t exited, but expressed an intent to turnover.

Responses to the survey were open-sourced, shared through Engaging Local Government Leaders’ network on their website and social media channels (Facebook and LinkedIn). Survey findings will be primarily descriptive analysis, in which response variation will be compared to each question to draw conclusions. Quotes from the surveys and interviews will be added throughout the analysis of the survey to make stronger connections to emergent trends in the survey responses and existing literature. It should be noted that 2019 data indicates that 14.5 million individuals were employed by local governments, therefore this survey captures only a limited perspective of the full population (Grundy, 2020). Because of this, more research into this topic is needed.

Results

Table 1.WomanManPrefer Not to SayTotal:
I involuntarily exited a government role. 4105
I voluntarily exited a government role.4117159
Total:4518164
I have not exited a government role since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.4034175
I am planning to exit my current government role. 131014
98533153

 

Of the surveys 153 responses, sixty-four respondents had exited a local government role since the start of the pandemic. The remaining eighty-nine respondents, though not having exited a role at the time of survey completion, had additional insights into recent turnover or expressed intent to turnover in the future. Of these respondents, seven expressed in the open-ended section an intent or desire to leave their role. Overall, more responses were received from women, representing sixty-four percent of total responses, with similar representation in the virtual interviews conducted. 

Table 2.18-2425-3435-4445-5455-64
I involuntarily exited a government role. 10122
I voluntarily exited a government role. 1161733
I am planning to exit my current government role. 07210

 

Higher levels of representation of women in the responses contrasts Moynihan’s research on state government employees that women are far less likely to express intent to turnover, as a higher share of women expressed both an actual exit or an intent to exit (Moynihan, 2008). In addition to this difference, Moynihan’s study also found that employees over the age of 30 were less likely to state an intention to quit. Respondents varied by age, but a majority of those who exited a role were between the ages of 25-34 and 35-44, meaning that many who exited were in the Millennial generation. Further research is needed to determine why this difference in demographic trends is present. It should also be noted that the respondents to this survey were primarily employed in urban communities, with fifty-eight percent of respondents leaving positions in urban local government (appendix 2d). 

The survey findings show consistencies with prior research on turnover intention and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many respondents, eighty-two percent, reported a belief that employee turnover rates had increased in their organization since the beginning of the pandemic. These findings are bolstered by free responses that express a variety of turnover intentions related to COVID-19, such as a lack of transparency from managers surrounding remote work and social pressure to return to the office without wearing a mask. First, the hypothesized role of burnout in turnover intention was pervasive in the survey’s responses. Most respondents believed that organization morale had depleted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with eighty four percent of individuals agreeing or strongly agreeing with this statement.

A majority, eighty-nine percent, of individuals expressed that the pandemic had negative effects (physical, emotional, or mental) on themselves or their coworkers, with fifty-three percent of individuals expressing strong agreement. A quick rate of burnout since the start of the pandemic was also expressed by fifty percent of respondents.

For many, organizational responsiveness to mental health needs was lacking, with one insight noting “I felt like the government did very little to provide mental health assistance, and showed minimal appreciation for its employees, which were a couple major reasons I decided to leave.” Succinctly put, one respondent shared the far-reaching impacts on her organization, “Our morale has still declined to the extent that everyone has been fairly open about not wanting to be here anymore. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s like a collective compassion fatigue, an entire department pushed that is just over it.” Burnout, compounded by external factors, appears to play a role in turnover.

Many experienced a change in workload, primarily in the form of task change or an increase of duties. A majority, seventy-eight percent of respondents, voiced that their day-to-day duties were altered to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This idea was reinforced in free-responses, with folks sharing “the demands of management roles in public service greatly increased during COVID causing extreme burnout.” Numerous responses cited that workload increased as staff left, and roles remained vacant. One respondent shared the experience of a colleague, “Her team had been without a director for 7 months; positions under her had gone unfilled for over 2 years; new initiatives she wanted to try were shot down; and she was watching colleagues leave by the dozen with no effort by leadership to keep them.”

Many local government employees experienced task changes due to the need to respond effectively to the impacts of COVID-19, whether that be adapting operations to a virtual mode or engaging in contact tracing, testing, vaccinations, and other related needs. A respondent shared,

“The responsibilities of local governments have increased tremendously since COVID, yet the pay has remained the same and the hours have increased. Staff is just as stressed as the public, but the expectations for us to perform and get triple the work done leave no room for wellbeing practices, and no disconnect from the job after hours or on the weekends.”

The second hypothesized major turnover intention, safety, was highlighted in both survey and free responses. Consistent with findings from other sectors, a lack of safety protocols and clear directives did affect the decisions of some who exited (Khawaja et. al, 2021). A respondent shared, “I resigned from my position due to city policies regarding COVID after leadership started ignoring research and recommendations for how to keep people safe.” This sentiment was echoed in an interview, as one manager shared that when she probed for the data points being used to drive COVID-19 protocol at her organization, her concerns were overlooked and she received little explanation.

Mask policies also affected workplace environments, with a respondent sharing “My city manager would not enforce a mask mandate required by the Governor in my workplace.” For some, inattentive policies response served as a major catalyst for exiting, with one respondent sharing

“My organization made a decision not to require vaccinations or masks at work. I am leaving the organization because of this reason.” However, fifty-eight percent of individuals strongly disagreed that COVID-19 vaccine policies impacted their decision to exit, while fourteen percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement. 

Consistent with Facer, Llorens, and Wadsworth’s research, remote work and accommodating schedules, or the lack thereof, played a role in some respondents’ decisions to exit (Facer, Llorens, and Wadsworth, 2018). While fifty-three percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that virtual work was an available option for most (more than half) of the employees in their organization, this response does not capture the duration of remote work that employees experienced or the variations across types of jobs that were conducive to working remotely. One respondent shared, “The pandemic introduced remote work for everybody but was quickly reversed as soon as people were eligible to come back to the office… For the most part the people that left [a position] including myself were the ones who were made to come in the office, while the senior staff stayed home”.

The role of virtual work was further affirmed, as sixty-one percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that an option of remote work would have slowed turnover rates in their organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free responses from individuals who stayed in their roles also confirmed this sentiment, with one respondent sharing,My current position gave me flexibility to work from home when I needed to, which helped me deal with the day-to-day unpredictability of having a school age child during the pandemic” and another stating, “My employer has been fine with work from home and office/work from home hybrids. It’s been very helpful to employees, and they’ve been very happy.”

Not only did the shift back to in-person affect the decisions of employees, one respondent expressed frustration around the agency’s desire “push to keep virtual [services] while integrating back to also provide in-person, largely with same or less staff,” another source of increased workload for local government employees. Twenty-three percent of respondents selected more family-work balance as the primary factor they would use in seeking out in future employment, with twenty-five percent of individuals citing it as their second priority in seeking new work.

One survey response shared the insight that in their organization “Many mothers have scaled back hours because there are no childcare openings in our community.” Only six percent of survey respondents indicated that they exited to meet family caregiving needs, meaning that while family-balance might not push individuals out of a role, a desire for more flexibility and family-work balance is a factor for some.

The role of leadership also appears to play a role in turnover intentions during the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with Durbarry and Lacap’s research studies on leaders (Durbarry, 2021; Lacap, 2009). A slightly higher percentage of respondents expressed a belief that their supervisor was responsive to the pandemic and worker needs (forty-five percent) compared to only thirty-five percent of respondents expressing that their organization had been responsive to the pandemic and the needs of their workers, meaning that the role of the direct supervisor or manager is critical in retaining employees.

One respondent wrote, “I noticed there was a lot that was lacking in the response from my organization. While some managers were empathetic, some department managers were not.” Leadership appears to play a trend in turnover intention, especially for those who already had weak beliefs in their leadership prior to the external shock. One respondent shared, “I had little confidence in my direct leadership beforehand. Covid was just the final blow.” and another disclosed, “The pandemic put the lack of strong leadership in my organization on full display. It was disheartening to see supervisors fail to recognize the need to change the way we did business to respond to the pandemic.” These findings are consistent with research on the positive role of supervisor support and transformative leadership.

Additionally, some respondents shared that increasing demands towards leadership had resulted in turnover within their organization “particularly at the executive and department head level. There has been so much community conflict, impossible situations, and pressure to achieve at the same level as pre-pandemic that I think many are seeing that it’s not worth the money to be beat up and feel unsuccessful every day.” As Castle’s research shows that turnover often begets more turnover, this loss of leadership could also be a contributor to employee turnover (Castle, 2005)

These themes do not fully encompass the many turnover intentions that influenced respondents’ decisions to leave, consistent with Allen, Bryant, and Vardeman’s finding that there is no singular reason for turnover at a given time (2010). One contributing theme noted throughout responses was a desire to better apply skills in expertise in a different role, with thirty-eight percent of respondents selecting this factor as their foremost consideration in selecting future work. Supported by free responses, some felt local government had “No incentive to retain top talent,” that “the salary disparity between the public sector and the market was substantial,” and that they “would have stayed in local government if provided a career path for advancement.”

For some, other external shocks to the community or workplace also contributed to a decision to leave their role, such as natural disasters or the events spurred by George Floyd’s death. Some respondents pointed towards the role of increased politics and tension in local government, with one individual writing, “Public scrutiny has reached a new level where having the public personally attack people at my organization is the new normal.” This variety of insight signifies further that turnover seldom happens for a singular reason and organizations must be responsive to employee needs.

Recommendations

The three subsections below represent retention strategies aligning with the three largest reported areas of turnover intention, which are lack of flexibility, burnout, and safety issues during the pandemic. While there are specific recommendations within those fields, there is one overarching theme that should be noted during use of any of the below strategies, which is engagement between leaders and employees. As theorized by Allen, Bryant, and Vardaman, leaders are crucial to preventing turnover. No one of the strategies below would expectedly be successful without leadership engaging with an individual and crafting a plan that is specific to their needs. 

Promoting Flexibility:

As discussed in the results section, feeling a lack of flexibility within work was among the top reasons for local government turnover during the pandemic. As a need, “flexibility” is multi-faceted, and between the survey results and the interviews, two main definitions of flexibility were explored. The first definition of flexibility concerns having freedom over the type of work being completed. The second is scheduling flexibility, meaning employees have more control over when they work remotely or in the office, and controlling their own schedules for when they are working during the day. 

Within the survey, when asked about what participants are looking for in their next place of employment, 37.5% stated they were primarily looking for somewhere they could better apply their skills and expertise. From here, it could be inferred that they felt as if their work in local government was not the best use of their skillset and that they seek more flexibility on task allocation in the future. One way to increase this type of flexibility is through leaders actively and continuously collaborating with their employees on project development and career fulfillment, which mirrors Vardaman’s suggestions throughout the “Engagement” category of retention strategies. Most organizations participate in annual performance evaluations, which would be a logical time for the employee to also report on fulfillment and job satisfaction. The discourse that could happen here could be crucial for keeping creativity and satisfaction. 

Over 20% of interviewees and 17.5% of survey participants report that they need more flexibility than local government has to offer, with one respondent emphasizing the rigidity of being present in the office from 9AM to 5PM five days a week, and how that does not promote a suitable amount of work-life balance. Within the scope of the pandemic especially, employees have a lot of other factors to manage external to work, meaning they plausibly need more time at home. Leaders can accommodate this need in a couple of different ways. First, as two interviewees suggested, alternative schedules could greatly alleviate this stress, as working different shifts could open more time during the day for personal responsibilities. Also, as suggested by survey results, the opportunity for remote work could also combat turnover intention.

Combating Burnout:

The pandemic exacerbated an already labor-intensive career path of local government. Literature suggests the importance of taking breaks that promote mental and physical health to combat feelings of burnout (Kohll 2018). On a small scale, taking longer lunch breaks and going for frequent walks release stress that can compound the lack of desire to continue working (Kohll 2018). In addition, a culture where workplace efficiency is allowed without the pressure to appear productive, instead of being productive, will increase a sense of trust and give employees the ability to take breaks without feelings of guilt (Kohll 2018).

One survey respondent who left local government stated “my decision to leave my role was multi-faceted but there were underlying conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. My manager was burnt out and it carried onto the team, perpetuating a culture of over-work consisting of back-to-back virtual meetings, extended workdays, and little room to move tasks off team members. I am one of multiple departures from the team over the past year. Reflecting over how the work culture had changed since the start of the pandemic, I believe management should have protected the team from the additional workload and expectations that developed”.

Based on the literature, surveys, and interviews, one recommendation is to provide more transparency on workplace plans to promote flexibility; normalize taking Paid Time Off and special leave for individuals experiencing burnout; and taking frequent breaks throughout the workday to allow for health-promoting activities like taking a walk, a nap, and decreasing screentime. These strategies begin with the leaders in the organization adhering to such practices and demonstrating how they apply these ideas in their own workflow (Lacap 2020).  

Safety Protocols:

Survey responses and interviews revealed that workplaces are struggling with the political nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the required safety protocols. The protocols in place at many workplaces have failed to promote stable and considerate protocol for workplace operations, which is resulting in unstable work cultures, people deciding to leave to protect family members, and philosophical differences in how people should treat the pandemic.

One recommendation is to adapt workplace cultures to fit the values of all employees to the extent that is possible. If a workplace culture is struggling with adhering to vaccination mandates and mask-requirements, create boundaries to allow people to adhere to their personal beliefs through remote working, mask-requirements, and incentivizing getting the vaccine without requiring it to continue to work at the municipality.

One way leaders can make sure that they are making these decisions in a way that represents their employees is to not only be transparent in their COVID-related rulemaking, but to engage employees in rulemaking. This acts as a solution against turnover as engagement has an acceptedly negative relationship with turnover rates (Lacap, 2009), and the discourse will yield crucial feedback that ensures protocols adhere to the needs of employees. 

Conclusion

In all, this study adds to the existing pool of literature concerning employee turnover intentions by looking specifically into the reason local government employees were turning over at an increased rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a mixed-methods approach including interviews and surveys, findings indicated that burnout, a need for flexibility, and safety concerns were the top reasons local government employees are turning over.

The suggested panel of recommendations align with these intentions, yet maintain the overarching suggestion of specialized planning and engagement between leaders and employees. Employees are leaving for a multitude of reasons, and no one solution will prevent them all, however, leaders creating unique plans of success for their employees can combat turnover intentions in most circumstances. Further research is needed to investigate the practical impacts of these recommendations and the accuracy they hold against turnover.


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Appendices

Appendix 1: “Government Turnover During the COVID-19 Pandemic” Microsoft Form

Appendix 2: Employees who Exited a local Government role since the start of the pandemic by demographics

2a. Voluntary or Involuntary

Voluntary or Involuntary
I voluntarily exited a government role. Voluntary: Initiated by the employee.59
I involuntarily exited a government role. Involuntary: Initiated by the organization.5
Total64

2b. Gender

By Gender
Women: 45Men: 18Prefer Not to Say: 1 Total: 64

2c. Age

By Age
18 – 242
25 – 3426
35-4422
45-548
55-644
65+1
Prefer Not to Answer1
Total64

2d. Community Size

By Size of Community Served
Urban37
Suburban21
Rural6
Total64

 

Appendix 3: Question 6 Likert Scale Responses

Appendix 4: Question 7 Responses

1.I am seeking to better apply my skills and expertise; 2. I am seeking to have more family-work balance; 3. I am seeking to have more flexibility and remote options in my work; 4. I am seeking a role with higher pay; 5. I am seeking a role in a different geographic location.

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