Weathering the Storm: The Impact of Cutbacks on Public Employees

[We’re pleased to welcome author Jaclyn S. Piatak of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Piatak recently published an article in Public Personnel Management entitled “Weathering the Storm: The Impact of Cutbacks on Public Employees,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Piatak reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:

PPM_C1 template_rev.inddWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

I was working as a program analyst at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor when the Great Recession hit. One of my projects was to conduct a survey of the state OSHA programs to see how each of the state programs were impacted by the recession. I was fascinated by how each of the state governments had to take at least one cutback measure, if not several. These ranged from Utah going to a four-day work week to furloughs to layoffs. This was my first glimpse at the recession having a real influence on government, government employees, and the public services they provide.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Fast forwarding to the Trump-era hiring freezes, I became concerned with the government’s ability to continue to do more with less. Between loss of positions due to the economic downturn and a large proportion of federal government employees retiring (or being eligible), the thought of a government-wide hiring freeze was disconcerting to say the least.

Were there any surprising findings?

Government employment has yet to rebound from the Great Recession. Private sector employment is back to pre-recession levels, but not the public sector. When looking across levels of government, the state government (excluding education) is particularly slow to recover.

This raises questions for timely staff recovery, organizational diversity, and the government’s capacity to cope with future crises.

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