Overtime pay for state employees surged to record highs in 2021 as agencies relied on a shrinking workforce to meet the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The report released Friday posits a tough reality for employees in New York state government, which DiNapoli says extends beyond the “great resignation” seen across the US: As workers leave the state payroll, those left behind were saddled with more duties and longer hours.
The total number of overtime hours worked by state employees increased by 4.3 percent from 2020, as the average number of state employees dropped by 5.3 percent. (The drop in headcount does not include workers at the City University of New York and its statewide counterpart, SUNY.)
“While the pandemic does not appear to have prompted a ‘great resignation’ from the state workforce in 2020, new hiring stalled, and the workforce declined more sharply in 2021 than in the prior decade,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
Attrition in the state’s workforce did not worsen in 2020, according to the audit. Some state agencies have piled work on a dwindling number of employees, but that burden appears to have worsened as a result of the pandemic.
“While the number of employees dropped more sharply in 2021 than in prior years, reduction of the State workforce has occurred over a much longer trajectory as employee counts have declined for over a decade,” the report reads.
DiNapoli notes that “data that would provide an up-to-date view of the sustained impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are not yet available.”
The analysis comes amid reports that employee dissatisfaction has begun to visibly bleed into the public sector. In New York City, workers are leaving behind municipal jobs, and state government employees in Virginia have likewise resigned in droves, amid a push by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to return them to office buildings.
Across executive agencies in New York, a hiring freeze was enacted in April 2020 amid the monthslong lockdown across the local economy. Though that hiring freeze was suspended roughly a year later, the state still faced major headwinds: Public and private employers around the US were struggling to fill job vacancies.
“Due to staffing constraints in place during much of the time period covered by this report, some agencies relied increasingly on overtime to accomplish their objectives,” the report reads.
The state’s Corrections department, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and the Office of Mental Health relied on the most employees to work overtime. Their workers made up roughly two-thirds of overtime hours for 2021, despite accounting for a quarter of the workforce collectively. Employees of the developmental disabilities office worked more than 5 million overtime hours in 2021, the biggest share of any state agency, according to the audit.