Attracting Millennials to Federal Agencies

In 2014, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a special report on millennials in the federal workforce that found that millennials are looking for work that is purpose-driven where they are able to make a difference. The majority of millennials (61 percent) were satisfied with their jobs, and 86 percent said that the work they do is important. Approximately three-quarters of millennials also believed in the promise of government and its ability to address the nation’s societal challenges.

But according to the Partnership for Public Service, millennials now comprise only 7 percent of federal government employees — the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. This current trend lies in sharp contrast to the fact that millennials will comprise nearly 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

This mismatch and the growing generational gap in federal government has coincided with a number of factors, including recent federal hiring freezes, underemployment, stagnant pay rates, complex hiring processes and millennial perceptions of antiquated technology in government. While many of these factors exist at the macro-level, federal agencies can still make adjustments within the workplace to help draw millennials back to the public sector.

The results of the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) can provide important insight into potential areas for agency improvement and also help millennials seek out agencies that closely align with their career goals. For example, most millennials want opportunities to develop their skills, expect feedback from their supervisors or managers and value training and mentorship. But the 2014 FEVS results revealed that only 34 percent of millennials in government were satisfied with the opportunities they had for career advancement, indicating that agencies need to focus on cultivating development programs.

The FEVS has served as an invaluable tool for federal government since 2010, assessing perceptions of work environments through a number of indices: levels of employee engagement and satisfaction; perceptions of rewards and recognition based on merit; opportunities for professional development and growth; and other factors that can influence recruitment and retention. For young people interested in entering the federal workforce, these scores can also help determine which agencies might provide the best fit and meet their expectations.

The 2017 survey results, released on October 12, reveal an overall positive snapshot of federal government. More than 486,000 employees participated in the survey, representing 80 federal agencies. Agencies showed improvement in nearly every survey item and index from the preceding year. The main highlights from this year’s FEVS follow:

The Employee Engagement Index (EEI) is made up of three sub-factors: Leaders Lead (employees’ perceptions of integrity of leadership and leadership behaviors such as communication and workforce motivation); Supervisors (interpersonal relationship between worker and supervisor); and Intrinsic Work Experience (employees’ feelings of motivation and competency relating to their roles in the workplace). The overall EEI score increased two percentage points government-wide from 2016, for a score of 67 — the highest score since 2011.

The New Inclusion Quotient (New IQ) measures the inclusivity of the work environment, with questions grouped into five habits of inclusion:

  • Fair – Are all employees treated equitably?
  • Open – Does management support diversity in all ways?
  • Cooperative – Does management encourage communication and collaboration?
  • Supportive – Do supervisors value employees?
  • Empowering – Do employees have the resources and support needed to excel?

The overall New IQ score increased two percentage points to 60, the highest level since the index was first reported.

Because millennials value both organizational mission and opportunities for personal and career development, agencies’ overall EEI scores can be a particularly useful measure to indicate where young people could feel most motivated and satisfied at work.

So, which agencies score best on employee engagement in 2017?

  • Among “Very Large Agencies” (more than 75,000 employees), the top two scoring agencies for this year were the Health and Human Services Department (72) and the Navy Department (69).
  • For “Large Agencies” (10,000–74,999 employees), the top two scoring agencies were NASA (82) and the General Services Administration (76).
  • For “Medium Agencies” (1,000–9,999 employees), the top two scoring agencies were the Federal Trade Commission (83) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (81).
  • Among “Small Agencies” (100-999 employees), the highest-scoring agencies were the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (85) and the National Endowment for the Arts (81).
  • Finally, for “Very Small Agencies” (less than 100 employees), the most inclusive places to work are the Marine Mammal Commission (96) and the National Capital Planning Commission (85).

For millennials interested in starting a career in federal government, this report can help you begin to navigate and research the wealth of public sector options. For example, you can sort survey responses by agency, with an eye to specific features important to you. This could range from responses on telework flexibility, to commitment to employee development, to satisfaction with job training, to creativity and innovation, to satisfaction with supervisor-employee communication.

Thinking about your future workplace according to these different measures can provide a more holistic picture of what it’s like to work in federal government. You can also check out OPM’s Fedscope database, or look at the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service. The latter resource is especially helpful if you want to compare agencies by demographic information or mission- or work environment-related categories (for example, the best places to work for female employees, or rankings for best work-life balance and support for diversity).


Read more about the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and its impact on women in government, here.

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There may be more millennials employed if there wasn’t a hiring freeze. There are many qualified millennials looking for work who cannot get in the federal system.