The 3 C’s to Connecting with Millennials

The future of our country’s largest generation, millennials looks bleak as far as making the federal government a career. According to the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results which serve as the basis of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, the percentage of workers under the age of 30 and 25 have been steadily decreasing at the federal level since 2010.

I have a unique perspective on millennials as a generational diversity and inclusion trainer. From my perspective, the following words and ideas come up regularly in our conversations:

This is a dirty word in the federal sector according to some millennials. The push toward the unknown of creativity and innovation is often met with the slogan, “That is not the way we do things around here.” They describe the dearth of curiosity in their work as a “no vacancy” sign that hangs over their cubicles that reads “uncertainty is closed off.” They view such signals in the workplace as indicators that their input is not warranted or valued.

They would like to see curiosity not necessarily as a bad thing but a learning opportunity. Instead of their supervisors choking off the fear of the unknown, millennials would like them to allow more uncertainty into the workplace even at the price of failure.

Millennials want their federal agencies to stand for something. Some say they were initially attracted to powerful mission statements shown to them by federal recruiters and glossy core values that adorn the atrium of federal buildings where they were interviewed. Unfortunately millennials also say that when they enter their federal workplaces, their colleagues tend to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their federal agency’s core values and norms that attracted them to the job in the first place.

Millennials often tell me that support of diversity and inclusion in the federal sector is nothing but lip service. As the world’s most diverse generation, they claim their ideas and recommendations of building a 21st century workforce are often ignored by their baby boomer managers. They are starving for federal workplaces that unite people around differences, stimulate new ideas through empathy and understanding and embrace the differences their unique generation brings to the workplace.

They dream of federal leaders who can recognize, appreciate and celebrate millennial achievements in a way that builds community is achievable. Millennials simply want their mentors and sponsors to stop taking them for granted and help them get on a path of endless possibilities. Like all generations, they seek social primacy in workplaces that make them feel like they belong.

There is a new generational gap that goes beyond old school and new school. It has the potential to tear at the fabric of our democracy that is built on a government for the people and by the people. Millennials are left wondering if their people will ever be fully welcomed into that government that needs them more than ever.

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Kathleen Vaught

This is a great article. As an official GenXer, I guess, I have wondered if my generation – which seems to be a bit “lost” in the conversation lately – can be a bridge between the baby boomer at the exec level and the millennial on the rise? We are often the middle managers pulled between the preferred status quo and inevitable innovation. I hope it shows how much I value the millennial coworkers I am privileged to work with every day. I think of it sort of like Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And, imo, together our generations are much greater than a “small group.”

richard regan

I think the jury is still out on the impact Millennials will have on the world. They definitely will leave their mark. I take a more pessimistic view of Millennials from the work I do around diversity and inclusion. While Millennials are diverse, I don’t see the urgency from them about creating a more just world. Their definition of inclusion is different from the view held by the their Baby Boomer parents-a view more aligned with Martin Luther King’s dream of a just society. They seem to have embraced a 2.0 version of inclusion while forgetting that the 1.0 version’s objectives are still unfulfilled.