Being Simply Irresistible to Millennials: Some Thoughts for Federal Agencies


In my last posting, I wrote about the simply irresistible multigenerational government agency. Starting with Dr. Jennifer Deal’s research into the silent generation, baby boomers, and generation X, I listed the ten principles that she discovered in her research. Essentially:

  1. All generations have similar values, and all generations want respect.
  2. Trust matters.
  3. Loyalty is contextual and not generational.
  4. Everyone wants to learn and be coached.

I then compared these findings to Josh Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organization (SIO). The five elements of the SIO (meaningful work, great management, fantastic environment, growth opportunities, and trust in leadership) fulfill the ten principles of the silent generation, baby boomers, and generation X.

What about millennials?

In 2016, Dr. Deal and Alec Levenson released What Millennials Want From Work: How To Maximize Engagement in Today’s Workforce. The authors collected 25,000 survey responses from millennials and 29,000 survey responses from older workers in 22 countries between 2008 and 2015. I especially found the responses from the older generations to be helpful as it placed the millennial responses into context. The authors then use the research to address five points about millennials.

Point One – Millennials are both entitled and hardworking

Millennials are often accused of demanding perks and privileges at work, are sloppy in their communications, and don’t want to do the necessary but routine work. Millennials will put in the long hours, do the necessary work, and understand hard work is essential to moving up. They are similar to the other generations in this way. What may be the issue is that millennials will speak their mind and love to find ways to “hack work” – find ways to do tasks faster and better.

Point Two – Millennials strongly want learning and development opportunities

Millennials are, on the average, the unhappiest of the generations. Millennials face greater student loan debt and an uncertain job market. Millennials realize that they are disposable to their organizations and the best way to keep working is continual reskilling. Therefore, millennials want to work in organizations where they can keep learning and are encouraged to develop. The other generations also want to learn and develop continually. However, millennials seem less trusting of their organizations than the other generations.

Point Three – Millennials want to do good and well

When I first started a full-time job after leaving college, I immediately signed up for a retirement account. Retirement planning so early in my career was considered unusual among my Generation X peers but, I would have been right at home with the Millennials. Millennials want to work in jobs that have meaning and a positive impact on the world. Millennials also want to make enough to escape the burden of debt most have and to have a comfortable retirement. Compensation and retirement planning is a shared concern among the generations but seems more intense with millennials.

Point Four – Millennials are high-tech and high-touch

All the generations want friends at work and a sense of community. Probably the second most consistent reason that people leave a job is that he or she felt “alone.” This reason is very close to the top reason people leave a job – because of their relationship with their boss. Millennials, on the average, use social media more than the other generations. Even so, there is not that much difference between social media usage by generations. Millennials are quicker to experiment with new technologies which can be both beneficial to the organization and dangerous. Beneficial in that this helps the organization stay innovative; dangerous in that new technologies can expose organizations to new security risks.

Point Five – Millennials are committed until they are not

Like the other generations, millennials are committed to their work teams and will contribute their fullest. However, millennials are also more likely to be convinced that better opportunities are out there and thus, more easily lured away by recruiters. Remember, this is the generation most concerned about their financial future and ability to compete in the workplace. Many millennials have yet to learn the hard way that a new opportunity is not always better. Every generation before the millennials learned that lesson the hard way. Personally, it took two hard lessons for me to stop jumping on new opportunities rather than try to improve my existing job.

Given these five points, the Simply Irresistible Organization is a perfect match for millennials. The SIO builds community through the small work teams and provides a good work-life balance through slack time. There is continual trust building between management and the employees which speak to the millennials’ need for security. Finally, the high-impact learning culture will meet the millennials’ needs for continual reskilling, mentoring, and coaching. Thus, if government agencies want to attract millennials, the agencies should consider adopting the SIO model. SIO is good for millennials and also will benefit the other generations.

Bill Brantley 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.

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