11 Ways to Keep Millennials in Government

A couple weeks ago, OPM released a report on millennials in the federal government. The major finding? Those born after 1981 are satisfied with their jobs, but frustrated by the lack of reward and advancement. It’s not necessarily rewards in the monetary sense, but rather failure to recognize innovation, hard work, and creativity.

Currently, millennials make up 16% of the federal workforce, and to continue attracting and retaining more of them, federal agencies need to come up with new ideas to match the expectations of these younger employees. The OPM report found that a majority of millennials already believe the work they do is important, can see how they are helping to achieve agency goals, and believe their supervisor listens. Overall, they are satisfied with their jobs, but not happy enough to stay too long. So what else can you do? Here are some tips for keeping millennials in federal employment:

  1. Stop stereotyping: Millennials are sometimes seen as lazy job hoppers who want a lot for little. They’re considered narcissistic and difficult to manage. Actually, they just view the work world in a different way and value personal enrichment in a job as much as the income. Stop looking at them as a problem that you have to solve, and instead focus on how their differences make them valuable to your agency.
  2. Respect job mobility: Unlike baby boomers, millennials are rarely content to remain in one job for a bulk of their careers. They desire options and mobility, both upward and outward. Don’t restrict your millennials from collaborating with colleagues in other departments or agencies out of fear that they might leave. And don’t restrict their development because you think they’re after your job.
  3. Embrace aspirations: Chances are, your millennial has bigger dreams than their first federal job. Help them carve a path to get there rather than trying to develop a way to keep them in their current job.
  4. Increase responsibility: Millennials like to feel ownership over something, so offer opportunities to manage or lead projects. Help them understand the big picture and the little details. Allow them to delegate. But most of all, make it real responsibility—you might have ultimate authority over ensuring that the project goes as planned, but fight the urge to micromanage. Offer suggestions when asked, and let your millennials know that you are there for support.
  5. Be flexible: Millennials want to find the most efficient and effective way to do a job. And that might not necessarily be the way you think it should be done. As long as they are operating within the confines of any laws and policies, be flexible in how they approach assignments and allow them to be creative.
  6. Promote work/life balance: You’ll find that millennials can be extremely committed to getting the job done, and might put in a 60-hour work week. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll do that all the time, so don’t expect that. Let them have a life outside of business hours, and don’t set an expectation that they put in long hours every week, or take advantage of their willingness to do so.
  7. Acknowledge accomplishment: The generation you’re dealing with grew up with constant rewards and encouragement. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, but celebrate victories, no matter how small. Let your millennials know that you’re paying attention to the work they are putting in and that it is valued.
  8. Encourage teamwork and collaboration: From kindergarten, millennials have been encouraged to work together to solve problems. Allow your millennials to collaborate—be it with co-workers or even across agency boundaries (if appropriate).
  9. Make a variety of development opportunities available: Think training, mentoring, brown bag discussions, and the ability to lead projects. It doesn’t have to cost you any money to be worthwhile.
  10. Be open to innovation and creativity: Along with being flexible, when a millennial finds a better way to do something, or has a suggestion for a great project, encourage it. Allow the millennial to explain how he or she thinks the idea is an improvement and how it would work, in practical terms. Be open to new ideas, and give them the consideration they deserve.
  11. Keep the door open: Your millennial employees might leave, but that doesn’t mean they have to fully disconnect from your agency. Instead, develop an “alumni” network for your former employees. Keep them apprised of what is happening at the agency, interesting projects, profiles of new employees. Even keep them updated on job postings—if they see what they are missing, they just might come back.

What tips do you have for keeping millennials employed with the feds? Add your suggestions in the comments below.

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