Three Things to Know About the Governmental Public Health Workforce: PH WINS 2017 Results

January 29, 2019|3:55 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

State health agencies and local health departments serve a critical role in promoting and protecting the health of all people in their jurisdictions and the communities in which they live, learn, work, and play. The workforce in state and local health departments is essential in preventing disease, promoting health and well-being, protecting communities, and building partnerships with other sectors to advance health.

Despite being the face of public health, little was known on the national level about the public health workforce until the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS). First fielded in 2014 and again in 2017, PH WINS is the only nationally representative survey of state and local public health workers. A partnership between the de Beaumont Foundation and ASTHO, PH WINS reveals important data and trends on the attitudes, morale, and climate among the public health workforce and identifies gaps in skills and experience.

PH WINS 2017 included the perspectives of more than 47,000 public health employees across 47 state health agencies and 25 large city health departments. In addition, for the first time, it includes workers in a nationally representative sample of local health departments with at least 25 staff and serving a jurisdiction of at least 25,000 individuals. The results of PH WINS 2017 are now available.

Below, Amber Williams, ASTHO’s chief of Governance, Leadership, State/Territorial Engagement and Workforce, highlights three things you need to know about the governmental public health workforce identified in the PH WINS 2017 data.

(1) The governmental public health workforce is predominantly white, female, and over the age of 40. However, while women make up the majority of the workforce, men are more likely to be executives, with four out of every 100 men in the workforce achieving that level but only two out of every 100 women achieving the same. Additionally, the workforce is well-educated, with 30 percent of the workforce having a master’s degree or higher. Despite this high level of educational attainment, only 14 percent of the workforce has formal training in public health, despite a 300 percent increase in public health graduates since 1992.

(2) The governmental public health workforce is highly engaged and highly satisfied with their jobs. Staff completing PH WINS were asked to indicate their level of agreement with 17 items related to employee engagement. More than half of staff agreed or strongly agreed with 15 of the indicators. Nearly all respondents agreed or strongly agreed that: the work they do is important (95%), they are determined to give their best effort at work every day (95%), and that they know how their work relates to their agency’s priorities (89%). There are still opportunities for governmental public health agencies to continue to improve employee engagement, with less than half of staff agreeing or strongly agreeing that creativity and innovation are rewarded and that communication between senior leadership and staff is good in their agency.

Additionally, the governmental public health workforce has high levels of job satisfaction, with 81 percent of the workforce somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. Slightly fewer (70%) were somewhat or very satisfied with their organization. Less than half (48%) were somewhat or very satisfied with their pay.

(3) Despite high levels of engagement and job satisfaction, there is the potential for significant turnover in the governmental public health workforce over the next five years, with nearly half of the workforce indicating that they were considering leaving their agency in the next five years, including 25 percent who indicated that they were considering leaving in the next year for reasons other than retirement. An additional 22 percent of workers plan to retire in the next five years. Since data was first collected in 2014, there has been a 41 percent increase in the proportion of the workforce planning to leave their jobs. Of those considering leaving, 57 percent have been thinking about leaving for more than six months. The top reasons for considering leaving were pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and their workplace environment. Certain populations that are already underrepresented in the workforce, such as millennials (32%) and those with a public health degree (34%), are poised to leave the workforce in large numbers.

Participating health departments have found value in their participation in PH WINS 2017. “PH WINS is an outstanding tool for health departments to better understand the dynamics of workforce engagement, morale, training needs, and emerging concepts in public health within their organizations. Managers are using the data in their employee engagement, program planning, and policy development,” says Mary Soto, who served as the Texas Department of State Health Service’s workforce champion during PH WINS 2017.

Visit the PH WINS website for more information about PH WINS and the newly released national summary report and infographic.

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