No matter where you work, you likely work with a diverse group of individuals – diverse in education, culture, life experience – and all of these characteristics encourage different approaches and strategic thinking. In federal government, one of the most noticeable employee statistics is age – there are federal employees in their 60s, and federal employees in their mid-20s, all working on the same teams. In September 2013, OPM reported that the average age of non-seasonal full-time permanent federal civilian employees is 47.3 years. In contrast, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average age of employees across all industries in 2013 was 42.4 years. So, chances are in federal government: you will be on a team with individuals spanning all generations. And that can be frustrating, for everyone.
Those of us in our twenties were raised in an age where computers became mainstream in households before we went off to college, where we each had a personal cell phone before we had our own car, and where we could order something online and avoid actually shopping in person for really anything. But as Miranda Lambert says, “It all just seems so good the way we had it, Back before everything became automatic.” Did we appreciate things in life more before it was so easy and convenient to obtain or ask for them?
Those closer to the average age in government might argue that indeed is the case, and they remember using a house phone to call someone, and writing a letter which was more genuine (rather than a text, Tweet, etc.). And here’s the thing – no one is wrong. There are some elements of current modernity in the workplace that are fantastic, like being able to conference call with USAID missions throughout the world. But there are some elements of current technology that can present a new challenge for the workplace, like interacting with many colleagues remotely and not having the in-person interaction that can really build a team’s cohesiveness and spirit.
At the end of the day, it’s a benefit to have colleagues from all generations on your team. Personally, I continue to learn new skills and gain incredible knowledge from people of all ages and generations while at USAID. For those of us in the millennial generation, here are some tips to work more effectively in a multi-generational workforce:
- Institutional knowledge: Policies and processes change every day in federal government in an effort to be compliant with the latest regulations and guidance. And while it is important to know the current state of affairs, usually those processes have been changed because of past issues or concerns, which only those who have been in government for a few years would know. These colleagues have likely been through many of these changes, and can advise you on how best to handle this change and the reason behind it.
- Cultivating relationships: So I’ll just say it – it’s pretty darn cool that we can easily email a colleague in a foreign country, and get a response within hours. And you can get to know people over technology pretty well, but building a sense of community within a team is hard to do from afar. Back when people didn’t work remotely as often, there would be team lunches, outings after work, etc. that facilitated this team spirit in the government culture. I think that we are still dealing with how to create this same environment as many people switch to teleworking more frequently. We should look to those colleagues who have built this teamwork in the past in a non-digital age to see if any of those methods could translate into building that same feeling now.
- Patience is a virtue: Yes, this is true still. And this virtue goes both ways. Federal government employees that have worked in government for a while are going to get frustrated as the “millennial techies” quickly explain how to use Google docs. And those in their twenties and thirties are going to become impatient as one of their colleagues is learning how to use videoconference equipment. At the end of the day, it benefits all federal employees – no matter your age – to know how to use technology to work more efficiently and effectively. In my experience, colleagues of every age have had issues with technology (in fact, many of the Google experts in our office were not millenials), but all are open to at least trying to learn how best to use it to achieve our goals. And to do that, we all need to take a step back, realize change can be difficult to handle sometimes, and all work together to learn how to best utilize IT in government.
The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government. USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.
Samantha L Corey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
Great perspective concerning the multi-generational challenge. It is important to realize that the challenge will remain and needs to strive for communication and collaboration to be keys for cohesion.
Great article. I took plenty away from it. The answer is simple but the hardest part is getting people to change, adapt and accept the age difference.
this is a terrific article that makes many great points about being patient with one another’s differences. One point though, most people that I know are in our 50’s and 60’s and we are major techies. We latched on to the tech innovations as fast as they rolled out the door. I find I constantly bump into the tech ceiling of the assumptions made about lack of ability or affinitiy or pure tech joy for this part of the age group. Best lesson: dont’ assume. Either end may have something to offer.
Relationships drive results. Everyone has something to offer. I like how you identified patience as a way forward. That isn’t in most job descriptions…and maybe should be!