Michigan local government leaders report increased problems with workforce recruitment and retention

February 22, 2023

The number of Michigan local government leaders reporting problems retaining their jurisdictions’ workers nearly doubled in 2022 compared with five years earlier. In addition, jurisdictions of all types and sizes have faced increased difficulty recruiting qualified employees, particularly where officials believe pay for new hires is too low or where there have been reports of harassment of local government staff by the public. Turnover due to retiring workers is a significant problem as well.

The findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders from the Spring 2022 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS), with comparisons to the Spring 2017 MPPS wave.

Recruiting employees with the necessary skills is a common problem, reported by 60% of Michigan’s local leaders in 2022, up from 48% in 2017. Retaining current employees is a growing problem as well, nearly doubling since 2017. Even in the state’s smallest jurisdictions — those with fewer than 1,500 residents — that have any type of paid employee, retention problems have increased.

In Michigan’s largest jurisdictions, nearly two-thirds report problems with turnover due to retirements and over half note problems with employee workload or low employee morale. In addition, an astonishing 48% report personnel challenges due to hostile interactions from the public.

Among places where local leaders report their employees have recently experienced harassment or other abuse, 79% say new employee recruitment is a problem; by comparison, 52% of jurisdictions that did not report harassment by the public have recruitment problems. 

“Michigan’s public workforce problems reflect broader issues with statewide, and national, trends since the COVID-19 pandemic and ‘Great Resignation,’” according to Debra Horner, MPPS project manager. “In previous reports we have seen that local government’s pay rates have been increasing, but it seems that has not been enough to ease the workforce challenges.”

The report states that recruiting employees with needed skills is by far the most common concern. Although less widespread, around a quarter to a third report that employee workload, employee retention, retirements, and employee morale are problems. Those recruiting challenges have increased in jurisdictions of every type and size.

The most common areas of concern are for hiring police officers and firefighters though most jurisdictions facing problems with recruitment face them in multiple areas, rather than the problems being concentrated in one specific segment of the workforce.

A recent MPPS report summarized Michigan local leaders’ views on employee pay rates, noting that despite a decade of gradual increases in employee wages and salaries, many still believe their local government’s pay rates are too low. Concerns over low compensation correlate with reported problems regarding retention of current employees. 

Another recent MPPS brief outlined how leaders from over half of Michigan’s local jurisdictions reported harassment, threats, or even violence (including property damage) against members of local government over the past few years. 

“It is concerning to see that the local climate of abuse towards government personnel is certainly impacting the willingness of people to serve or work in local government. In places where local leaders report that jurisdiction personnel have recently experienced harassment or other abuse, 79% say employee recruitment is a problem,” noted Natalie Fitzpatrick, research area specialist at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), which conducts the MPPS. 

The MPPS is an ongoing census survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan conducted since 2009 by CLOSUP. Respondents for the Spring 2022 wave of the MPPS, include county administrators, board chairs, and clerks; city mayors, managers, and clerks; village presidents, managers, and clerks; and township supervisors, managers, and clerks from 1,327 jurisdictions across the state.