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Insights on Authenticity and Burnout from Local Government Executives

Updated: Oct 27

As unprecedented numbers of Americans have left their jobs in 2022, a great deal of attention has been given to what the drivers of the “Great Resignation” have been. While a tight labor market with competing job opportunities is surely an important part of this story, recent surveys have also shown increases in employee burnout, especially in sectors more involved in the response to the pandemic.

It appears that local government is no exception. In partnership with Assistant Professor Nicole Humphrey at the University of Miami, CivicPulse recently conducted its own nationally representative survey of 232 local government leaders to better understand this phenomenon. As expected, we found significant levels of burnout among local governments leaders. Over a third (39%) of local government leaders agreed that they felt burnt out from work.

However, we also measured leaders’ ability to be “emotionally authentic,” or their ability to be honest about their personal challenges and feelings in the workplace with others. It turns out that leaders who were not authentic at work were much more likely to experience burnout (51%), compared to leaders who were (31%).

While we show that authenticity is associated with lower burnout among local government leaders, a significant body of academic research has also demonstrated that more authentic leaders can mitigate burnout for their staff too. Conversely, leaders who are unable to show up authentically for their employees run the risk of perpetuating burnout in their organizations. Given the general prevalence of employees experiencing burnout, leaders being open about their own experience may help the employees they manage feel less alone in their experience. This sort of open discussion by leaders may help reduce stigma around feeling burned out. Survey Background The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample survey of 232 top appointed officials, fielded from March to May 2022. Top appointed officials may include officials like city managers and county administrators; they are appointed by the governing body and responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the government. The sample frame draws on Power Almanac’s continuously updated contact list of government officials from counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with Assistant Professor Nicole Humphrey at the University of Miami and implemented by the CivicPulse Team. Below are the key survey items used to generate the results:

I feel burnt out from my work.

  • Strongly Disagree

  • Disagree

  • Neither

  • Agree

  • Strongly Agree

I fake the emotions I show when dealing with people at work.

  • Strongly Disagree

  • Disagree

  • Neither

  • Agree

  • Strongly Agree

I show feelings that are different from what I feel inside while at work.

  • Strongly Disagree

  • Disagree

  • Neither

  • Agree

  • Strongly Agree

I just pretend to have the emotions I need to display for work.

  • Strongly Disagree

  • Disagree

  • Neither

  • Agree

  • Strongly Agree

Media Contact Nathan Lee, PhD Managing Director of CivicPulse (618) 319-3404 nathanlee@civicpulse.org

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