Why I left my local government job

This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog which you can check out here. It has been slightly modified.

I am not the first local government employee to join the Great Resignation (or Reassessment, Realignment, Repositioning, etc.) and I certainly won’t be the last. According to MissionSquare Research Institute, 52% of local government employees plan to leave their jobs. For some, it’s an easy decision: a chance to leave a toxic workplace, recover from burnout, or find better benefits or pay. For others, like me, it’s a tough decision fueled by pandemic-induced personal evolution in response to the rapid changes in the workplace since 2020.

Although I am excited to start my new role in the private sector, leaving local government is bittersweet. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn more about the industry and hope I have made a difference during my time serving. I’ve been lucky to have supportive bosses, great co-workers, and interact with the best residents. The future of our community is bright and leaving at this pivotal moment was not a cavalier decision.

Like many people, I’ve spent the past two pandemic-fueled years thinking deeply, thinking about what I want out of my personal and professional life. Like many, I felt like I was putting more emphasis on the first one than I ever had. I began to question many things that made up my professional identity and reflected on the tasks that I liked doing versus the ones that freaked me out.

I changed positions within my organization hoping that the new role would be the ticket to keep me. But over the months I had to accept that while there were a lot of things I liked about working in local government, the changes that were happening outside of government were more in line with what I appreciated.

However, I still wasn’t ready to jump ship with the government. At the end of 2021, I started working with a career coach to explore my past work experiences and make a big emotional effort to be honest with myself about where I wanted to go. At first, I had hoped that the conclusion she and I would come to was that government was the place for me. It certainly would have been easier and saved me a lot of stress. Unfortunately, the more she pushed me with insightful questions and the more honest I was, it became undeniable that I had to move on.

I spent several months looking for a job and was still hoping to find a municipal opportunity that offered the modern work structure and focused work functions I was looking for. None of the municipal positions advertised in my area did. They needed a local residence and regular office work; they encompassed an exhaustive list of disparate skills, screaming “burnout!” a mile away; they offered lower wages than the private sector and, in some cases, fewer benefits; and they weren’t talking about the fast, cutting-edge, high-impact work I was looking for.

Job postings for municipal roles seemed old fashioned and boring, not at all exciting or contemporary. Yet, as I branched out and examined the roles of the private sector, I found hundreds that ticked my boxes.

I worked hard to stay in local government and before 2020 I planned to stay for years to come. I hadn’t planned on going through a pandemic or witnessing the biggest changes in the workplace in a generation. So much has changed so quickly over the past few years and ultimately my outlook on my life and work has also changed during this time just like so many others.

How fast will the work of government evolve?

While reflecting on change, I have spoken with colleagues who have left government and who believe the industry will never evolve in response to these major culture shifts. These opponents are convinced that stagnant approaches to government work will remain in place for years to come and will continue to harm the quality of service delivery and the overall quality of life in our communities. I couldn’t disagree more. The question is not whether government will change – it must, because it has no choice – but how fast, and the answer to this question will make all the difference.

I hope the industry will consider my story and the countless others and accelerate the modernization of job descriptions, benefits and operations. There is value in this work, and there are exciting opportunities. But structural and cultural changes are essential, and a repositioning of the industry is vital for job seekers to consider government, especially amid the current avalanche of employment opportunities.

In the meantime, our communities are in good hands. People working in government today are passionate and smart. They are dedicated to making their cities and towns safe, clean and productive places where residents can live and work.

Innovation in government continues to increase, and technology is dramatically improving the ability of municipal organizations to better understand and serve constituents. Elected officials are increasingly talking about the challenges and value of municipal organizations, drawing attention to the need for increased funding and greater federal support. Municipalities are working harder than ever to engage residents and create collaborative forms of governance.

As the industry as a whole must catch up with larger cultural movements, individual municipalities have pivoted with astonishing speed to meet the changing needs of their communities during the pandemic. The government is working smarter than ever and has unlimited potential to become an employer of choice for a new generation of public defenders.

While I have mixed feelings about leaving, government is a unique industry in that when you leave you are still a participant as a citizen. I look forward to seeing the continued transformation of government in the years to come and I am convinced that positive changes are yet to come. To all my colleagues, best wishes. The industry is yours to shape and the opportunities are limitless.

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