HKS Authors

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Public servants’ mental health can impact how, how well, and to whom services are delivered. In this article, we extend the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) framework to consider whether employees’ perceptions of themselves, their co-workers, and beneficiaries predict higher psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a survey of state and local public servants (n?=?3,341), we report alarming rates of psychological distress: one in three employees are burnt out and one in five are experiencing compassion fatigue. Those who view government as the place to make a difference, and those who perceive co-workers as competent, are less likely to report distress. Those who attribute poverty to systemic factors, and not to individual flaws of beneficiaries, experience higher distress. These findings suggest an urgent need to prioritize public servant mental health, and show that individual perceptions of self and others can predict variation in psychological distress, even in periods of widespread crisis.


Sciepura, Brenda, and Elizabeth Linos. "When Perceptions of Public Service Harms the Public Servant: Predictors of Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Government." Review of Public Personnel Administration (April 2022).