Millennials in the Public Sector: We Want You!
If you Google “millennials and public service,” the search results paint an interesting picture. You will see clear references to a widening millennial talent gap alongside articles about how millennials actually love their government jobs and want a career in the public sector. Where is the truth, you ask? As always, it is probably somewhere in the middle. However, the important takeaway from this far from scientific observation is this:
The Federal Government Needs Millennials.
As we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), it is a perfect time to reflect on what this generation brings to the workplace and talk about ways millennials can find more meaning and opportunities to grow and lead in their public sector work.
Transforming the Status Quo
The 2015 Millennial Leadership Survey reported that 63% of millennials surveyed aspire to be a “transformational” leader. That means the majority of those seeking leadership roles are not motivated by money or power, but instead want opportunities to challenge themselves and inspire those around them to find purpose and energy in the work they do. I can tell you the issues my colleagues and I help government employees build the skills to untangle are increasingly complex and have far-reaching implications for our country. The Federal workforce needs people with inclusive leadership skills, who can tap into the collective wisdom of diverse groups and lead cross-functional teams with ease. Reality check: No, this won’t happen overnight, but today’s government leaders can take steps to give emerging leaders the tools they need to create new patterns of behavior and build resilience in organizations.
Given the density of issues facing government organizations, being a transformational leader must also involve entrepreneurial thinking—another hallmark strength of the millennial generation. If the issues government organizations face are stickier than ever, approaching them with an entrepreneurial mindset produces the accountability, flexibility, and ingenuity needed to ignite and sustain lasting changes. Once again, current senior leaders play an important role in helping this next generation of leaders tap into their entrepreneurial genes by being transparent about what’s going on in an organization and authentic in how they can engage millennials in being part of the solution.
Finding Meaning and Opportunity
If you are a millennial working in the public sector, here’s four tips to help you more fully connect with your organization and find a path that fits your values and talents:
- Find a Mentor: You should understand “standard” career paths in your organization but you should also seek a mentor to learn how your talents as an individual can support organizational goals. Your mentor cannot only help you find ways to stay engaged and plan for the future, but learning from their experiences can literally place you years ahead of your peers. Your organization may not have a formal mentoring program, but building a network of informal mentors is just as (if not more) effective.
- Seek Feedback: It’s a common complaint that millennials in government organizations can’t hear enough about their performance from their supervisors or others in leadership roles. Rather than wait and let frustration build about someone’s communication style or performance management skills, ask for the feedback you want. And, be specific. Target the skills you want to refine and use the insight they provide to reflect on your performance and set new, measureable goals.
- Use Flexible Schedule Options: Efforts to reduce the footprint of government organizations have catapulted telework and flexible schedule programs into the mainstream. Work life fit is a must have for your generation, so study up on your organization’s policies and take advantage of your options.
- Identify Unique Learning Opportunities: Another common reason millennials leave the public sector is a lack of training While access to formal training varies by the organization, on-the-job learning is also critical to your professional growth. Much like asking for feedback, you’d be surprised what opportunities can emerge from conversation with leaders in your network. Keep your ears open and be ready to pitch your talents when you see a match. Above all, volunteer for things that interest you – you may tap into a new skill set or interest area.
An August 2015 survey found that millennials in the Federal government is at the lowest since 2005, with only 6.6 percent of the Federal workforce in this age bracket. (If you look at the entire U.S. workforce, 23.5 percent are under 30 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) The 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) is underway and results will start rolling out in August. After years of watching millennials leave public sector jobs after only short tenures, I will be anxious to see where the younger population of government sits and what they have to say.