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K-12 Employee Job Satisfaction Plummets as Stress and Worries Increase Regarding COVID-19 Safety and Personal Finances

February 24, 2021

New Research from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC Examines K-12 Employee Sentiment on Key Job Issues Since Onset of Pandemic

A nationwide poll of K-12 employees finds this segment of the state and local workforce has heightened concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those surveyed, the vast majority reported feeling stressed (63%), high levels of burnout/fatigue (54%), and substantial anxiety (47%) at work due to the pandemic. These worries come as K-12 employees were significantly more likely than other government employees to perceive themselves to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work (60% vs. 38%).

K-12 employees' general satisfaction with their employers plummeted from 69% in March 2020, to 44% in October 2020. Additionally, more public education professionals could leave their jobs at a time when many state and local governments are struggling to recruit and retain teachers. More than one-third (38%) of K-12 employees say that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs, as compared to 25% of other government employees.

These findings are contained in a new report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC (SLGE at ICMA-RC), K-12 Public School Employee Views on Finances, Employment Outlook, and Safety Concerns Due to COVID-19. Download the report. In addition to describing the results of the survey, the report offers recommendations for states and localities to think strategically to address these challenges. To help alleviate the safety, health, job, and financial concerns of K-12 employees, the report highlights four areas of focus for state and local governments: financial wellness, employee morale, remote work and nontraditional benefits. 

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"These findings should ring the alarm bell for policymakers grappling with the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. education system and the K-12 workforce," said Rivka Liss-Levinson, Ph.D., Senior Research Manager at SLGE at ICMA-RC. "State and local lawmakers are tackling complicated issues – coping with remote learning, vaccinating teachers, transitioning children back to schools, addressing school budget and teacher compensation, and filling staff shortages. We hope these findings will help inform public policy decisions on critical issues that impact K-12 workers, children and families," she said.

"Educators are central to student achievement, just as high quality education is essential for U.S. economic competitiveness; and left unaddressed, the harm to the U.S. education workforce could be deep," said Orlando Cruz, Senior Vice President at ICMA-RC. "This research tells us that the pandemic has placed a heavy burden on the K-12 public school workforce. It is more important than ever to engage our participants with educational tools, guidance, and resources that not only help alleviate the anxiety levels faced by educators today, but also help set them up for future financial success beyond the pandemic."

The report finds:  

  • There has been a sharp decline in education employees' job satisfaction since the onset of the pandemic. K-12 employees’ general satisfaction with their employer fell from 69% in March 2020, to 44% in October 2020.
  • Work hours have increased substantially in the wake of the pandemic. Of K-12 employees, 41% reported that they are working more hours (either officially or unofficially) in October 2020 than they were prior to the pandemic. This is most often due to the extra work that online/remote work entails (78%), an increased number of parent or student meetings/communications (52%), and an increased number of work meetings/communications (50%).
  • The nature of work in education has changed dramatically due to COVID-19, more so than for other state and local employees, and the adjustment has been difficult. In October 2020, 55% of K-12 employees and 35% of other government employees reported that the pandemic has significantly impacted the nature of their job. While 46% of K-12 employees rated the adjustment as extremely or very difficult, fewer than half as many other government employees did (22%).
  • K-12 workers are more likely than other state and local employees to be considering changing jobs and to believe the job risks are not on par with their compensation. While 55% of K-12 employees reported that the risks they are taking during the pandemic are not on par with their compensation, only 44% of other government employees did. Further, 38% of K-12 employees say that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs, as compared to 25% of other government employees.
  • Public school employees were significantly more likely than other government workers to report feeling stressed and/or burned out/fatigued. K-12 employees most often reported feeling stressed (63%), burned out/fatigued (54%), and/or anxious (47%) at work due to the pandemic. For other state and local employees, these rates were lower – 52% for stress, 47% for burnout/fatigue, and 44% for anxiety at work.
  • K-12 employees were significantly more likely to perceive themselves to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work than other government employees. Of K-12 employees, 60% felt that they are at very or extremely high risk, as compared to 38% of other government employees.
  • K-12 employees worry about keeping their family safe from contracting COVID-19, about contracting the virus at work, and having their employee benefits package reduced. They were more likely than other government employees to be very or extremely concerned about most issues, especially keeping their family safe from contracting the virus (61% versus 48%), and staying protected from contracting the virus at work (61% versus 43%).
  • More are juggling childcare while working as compared to their state and local employee counterparts. While 60% of K-12 employees who are parents of children under the age of 18 have had to work from home while taking care of their kids for a lengthy period of time, fewer than 40% of other government employees have had to do so.
  • More K-12 workers say the pandemic has harmed their family finances than other public employees. Among K-12 survey respondents, 60% reported that they and their family have been negatively impacted financially by the pandemic, while half of other government employees did.
  • K-12 employees are increasingly worried about retirement. Of state and local education staff, 48% are concerned about their ability to save enough to be financially secure throughout retirement. This level of concern is at 39% for other public employees. In October 2020, 45% of K-12 employees agreed that people who retire from jobs in K-12 education are able to live comfortably in retirement — a decrease of six percentage points from March. Even fewer felt that their employer does a good job of preparing them for retirement (37% in March and 34% in October).

Information for this report is derived from an October 2020 national survey of 1,205 state and local government employees, including 494 K-12 public school employees. The survey, conducted by SLGE at ICMA-RC and Greenwald Research, assessed public sector employee views on the impact of the pandemic on their employment and financial outlook, safety concerns, and employer and benefits satisfaction. When applicable, results are compared to a March 2020 survey of 400 K-12 employees. 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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