MSPB Warns of Impact on Federal Employees of Working through Pandemic Fort Worth, TX - May 2020: Federal Bureau of Federal Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas, . Hundreds of inmates inside the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and several inmates have died with numbers expected to rise. Image: LM Otero/AP/Shutterstock

During the pandemic federal employees have shown again that they are “willing to demonstrate initiative and flexibility” but agencies should not lose sight of the toll that such efforts can take on them, the MSPB said in a new publication.

“Federal employees have consistently answered the call to serve. Federal leaders who ask employees to go the extra mile—or ask employees how to respond to the challenges of the day—will likely discover that they are eager to do all they can,” it said.


It cited a 2016 survey it conducted in which about nine-tenths of employees indicated that they take personal responsibility for their work to “a great extent” and that they look for ways to help others with their work to a great or moderate extent.

That shows that federal employees “will find ways to succeed, even when they encounter unexpected barriers that they (and their managers) did not foresee” and that they “will step outside their normal roles and routines to help coworkers in need,” MSPB said.

However, it also cited its previous research finding that “emotionally laborious” work in which an employee’s duties require handling emotionally difficult situations is especially tiring and draining and runs a higher risk of burnout.

That research in particular cited medical professionals involved in direct patient care, law enforcement or corrections officers, and customer service representatives who deal with requests for benefits—all occupations that have had even higher demands placed on them in recent months.

Said MSPB, “Many federal employees perform high levels of emotional labor—regulating and displaying emotions appropriate to the situation and the needs of coworkers and customers. Even those of us who can work remotely for extended periods will be performing more, and more difficult, emotional labor.”

It added that “emotional labor and its toll are often invisible, making them easy to overlook or dismiss. It is important to avoid that error and take steps to help employees and coworkers perform and recover from emotional labor.”

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