Organizational Memory and Snap Back Performance in Public Agencies

56 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2022

Date Written: August 10, 2022


In recent years, public administration scholars investigated the relationship between employee turnover and public sector performance in settings where tasks are routine and frequently executed. This research builds on that foundation by investigating the contribution of organizational memory to the execution of infrequent and extraordinary tasks, theoretically distinguishing it from routine and ordinary tasks. Using a panel of administrative state employee payroll data collected from 45 states, this research tests the relationship between state health department employee turnover, retention, and performance in response to an emergency: the COVID vaccination campaign of 2021. Results show that recent health department turnover rates are a more substantive predictor than retention of employees with previous SARS H1N1 experience or the employment of managers from that era. Estimates indicate a one percentage point increase in employee turnover rates reduce the two-dose adult vaccine take-up rate by about 0.5 percentage points, a result largely driven by high vaccination rates among senior citizens. The results are robust to alternative specifications and a placebo investigation using transportation department employee turnover rates. I estimate from this data that a 1 percent reduction in turnover would cost about $1.6 billion in additional compensation to state health departments and would produce reduced mortality benefits of $2.1 billion.

Keywords: public health, employee turnover, organizational memory, COVID-19

JEL Classification: D83, H51, I18, J63

Suggested Citation

Stavick, John, Organizational Memory and Snap Back Performance in Public Agencies (August 10, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

John Stavick (Contact Author)

Oakland University ( email )

2200 Squirrel Road
Rochester, MI Oakland 48309
United States
2483704392 (Phone)


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