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Panel: Don't over generalize Gen Y

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In an attempt to recruit and retain young workers, agency strategies often over generalize Gen Y workers, said panelists speaking May 7 at the Excellence in Government conference in Washington, D.C.

For example, many assume that younger workers don't want structure and want a flattened work hierarchy; but Erica Navarro, director of strategic planning and performance management at USAID, said Gen Y workers do want structure as well as clear career guidance to navigate bureaucracy.

There's also a tendency to lump Gen Y workers in a group with certain personality traits, they said.

"When I see analysis of generational issues, it's very often oriented toward personality traits in a way that I find to be very superficial," said Dave Uejio, lead for talent acquisition at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Rather than just focus on this sort of high-level caricature about personality traits, we might be better served by looking at kind of what is the experience like for young people," said Uejio. "There was a kind of a quite depression of employment for people between the ages of 16 and 24 or 25…trust in all institutions--not just the government but both public and private sectors--is down in its totality."

But attracting young workers to government isn't just about "calibrating the marketing strategy around public service," said Uejio. It's about improving the employee experience overall, he said.

One of the biggest strikes young workers have against the employee experience in government is the pace of change, said Brandon Friedman, director of online communications at the Veterans Affairs Department.

"There's sort of this expectation that things move quicker now than they used to and the federal government, I don't think, has kept up with that," said Friedman.

"It takes so much effort in the federal government to make something happen, that people who are really talented tend to burn out fairly quickly…they achieve a modicum of change but then they'll move on and move back to the private sector," he added.

Navarro said this lack of speed is also a source of frustration when it comes to advancement in government.

"This idea that you have to sit in your current role for 5 or 10 years and then you get to progress to SES or this level, I just think it kills the government," said Navarro. It's going to drive Gen X and Millennial workers "away immediately and it's a big disservice to the federal government to lose all that experience," she said.

Friedman agreed, adding that government often values experience over talent.

"The best way to get ahead in government is to get old. Just stick around and you'll move up. And no matter how talented you are in your 20s you're not going to be in this senior level position," said Friedman.

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