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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI business professor warns thousands of federal employees may feel impact of government shutdown for months, years

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The government shutdown and subsequent furloughing of hundreds of thousands of federal employees might impact the federal workforce for months and possibly years to come, according to University of Rhode Island Associate Professor of Human Relations Management Anthony Wheeler.

Wheeler, who directs URI’s one-year MBA Program, has conducted research on the impact of workplace furloughs. As the furlough lengthens and workers begin to absorb the financial impact of the impasse, they will feel added stress and emotional exhaustion that began before the shutdown, when politicians started discussing it as imminently possible, he said. When employees eventually return to work, we should expect them to experience lingering stress and exhaustion, which will impact performance. Should Congress and the President pass a short-term funding resolution, the threat of another shutdown will further increase stress and exhaustion levels, he said.

Wheeler expects to see more federal employees, especially high-performing ones, seeking new jobs and the government having more difficulty attracting, motivating, and retaining quality employees.

About Anthony Wheeler:

Wheeler and two co-authors published an article in April in The Journal of Applied Psychology highlighting how a work furlough has real consequences in terms of employee performance and morale. In research thought to be the first of its kind, Wheeler and his collaborators looked at the impact mandatory furloughs had on public workers in four Midwest state agencies. They found that work performance decreased and emotional exhaustion, a sign of employee strain, increased before the furlough and peaked right after and stayed that way. A sample of 900 workers were surveyed on four dates over 19 days – 10 days before the furlough; three days before the furlough; one day after the furlough; and eight days after the furlough. The employees rated themselves on work performance and emotional exhaustion. About 200 workers completed all four surveys. Workers surveyed were given no choice in the furlough and couldn’t pick what days they wanted to take off. The researchers determined that by giving the employees no say in the furlough, the state agencies were slowly burning out their workforce.