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Generation Y and Public Management: Issues and Implications [Live Blog from Paris]

Good morning. I am live blogging from the Ministry of Finance in Paris, France, where I am participating in an event hosted by the Institut de la Gestion Publique (Institute for Public Management). This marks the 10th year of an annual event and this year’s theme is “Generation Y and Public Management: Issues and Implications.” Over the next couple days, I will be striving to capture the essence of the event for you.


Overture: Jean-Francois Verdier, Director General for the Administration of Public Management

To my knowledge, the first speaker is the equivalent of OPM Director John Berry. He indicated that France hires 30,000 public sector employees each year and this issue is timely and forward thinking. While it is helpful to look at generational cohorts, he cautioned the audience against categorizing all members of a particular group. In fact, he asked: “Is there such a thing as Generation Y or should we simply be preparing for anyone newly entering the public sector workforce.” Jokingly, he wondered if he had opened the event and completely questioned the entire basis of it! Nonetheless, he acknowledged the importance of learning about the preferences of the next generation’s values and incorporating those into the workforce.

Introduction: Benjamin Chaminade, Consultant on Social Innovation

“Generation Y and the Values of Public Administration”

Next up is an expert on generations from Australia who blogs at http://www.generationy20.com/. The four initial values he’s citing include:

  • order (clear tasks and timelines)
  • balance (flexibility)
  • success (advancement)
  • freedom (autonomy of responsibility)

Four other values:

  • individualization (a chance to “choose their own adventure”)
  • interconnection (emotional links to colleagues and bosses)
  • impatience (want to rise up and change fast)
  • initiative (seek to have their ideas heard and opportunities to be trusted with new approaches)

“Gen Y” is not the important distinction here. Rather, this is a great excuse, an opportunity to change the workplace to embrace a new way of doing business. Fantastic slide deck – I’ll see if I can get a copy.

Round Table 1

Roland Jouvent, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Paris VI, Pierre and Marie Curie, Director of the Center for Emotion

  • The human brain adapts nimbly to new events, including technological advances
  • Using Skype, there is a time gap of 2 seconds in processing the communication that we’ve come to accept and that is becoming natural for young people
  • When there is so much new information, the brain must learn rapidly to process and prioritize the data according to relevance; young people are able to adapt more quickly, which is becoming an equalizer in the workplace (my addition: especially work environments like government where information is power)
  • In some ways, human relationships are becoming devoid of emotion due to the Internet, which could lead potentially lead to some increase in psychological disorders

Brigitte Colin, Knowledge Management Advisor, Belgium Federal Service

  • 40% of Belgian public sector employees eligible to retire within 5 years
  • Conducted focus groups to learn about public sector employee preferences
  • Not seeking an approach specific to Gen Y, but one that’s good for all employees
  • The larger the age gap between team leader and manager, the greater the happiness of the teams; this does not mean we should have only more seasoned leaders, but better training for new managers
  • Based on surveys, public service is one of the most attractive options for young people in Belgium – applications have risen by 20% in the last year
  • To encourage more young people to apply, we have increased telework from 4% in 2007 to 10% in 2010, created individual development plans and incorporated social media into the workplace.
  • In one ministry, we have a revolution: no one has to clock in, no one has a designated office space (not even managers), digitized all documents, result-orientation, etc.
  • President of that Belgian ministry: give them meaning, they will give you energy; give them fun, they will reward you with creativity.
  • See page 118 of this report for more information about the civil service reform in Belgium.

Herve Dery, Acting Senior Vice-President of the Policy Branch of the Public Service Commission of Canada

  • As shared by Mr. Dery and described on Wikipedia: the Public Service Commission of Canada (PSC) is an independent government agency that safeguards merit-based hiring, non-partisanship, representativeness (aboriginal people, visible minorities, women, and people with disabilities) and the use of both official languages (English and French) in the Canadian public service. The PSC aims to protect the integrity of hiring and promotion within the public service. As well, the Commission works to protect the political impartiality and non-partisanship of public servants.
  • We are moving from a system less based on rules and more on results, but that can cause problems with assessments, especially in a changing system.
  • Here are their 2010-2011 priorities: http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/centres/priorities-priorites-eng.htm

Open Discussion

  • Jouvent: Belgium’s work environment allows people to stay in their “nest” – which could better preserve the energy of employees. In fact, it may allow them to take naps, which is critical for some people’s performance!
  • Dery: We’re just trying to change offices, and that is causing much anxiety…not to mention all the larger scale changes. These things are tied to hierarchy: office or not, height of floor, number of windows. Packed with emotion.
  • Question from Audience: Are their negative impacts on work-life balance from telework and the proliferation of smart phones? Nouvent: Certainly. When people answer email at the dinner table and family members have their own online activities, there is a disruption to the conventional family life. Chaminade: For the next generation, there is no distinction. It’s only “life.” Colin: Employee surveys show that employees are happier with flexibility and feel more productive. Dery: Teleworking in Canada is not widespread, but what is popular is re-organizing work hours (i.e. 4-day work week).
  • Question: What about the risk of unauthorized release of data related to telework? Dery: Some employees work from home and there are some concerns for confidentiality. Colin: There is one example of an employee who raps. He composed a rap song that is on YouTube in which he talks about being bored at work. So not a disclosure, but a public affairs issue. Ethics professor in audience: Some young people are talking negatively about their colleagues and bosses, which we’ve had to address. There was a generation gap though. Some older people thought the discipline should be more harsh while young people disagree. Dery: There is a story in Canada in which a teacher / manager in secondary school (not directly involved with the students) engaged in pornography online. Parents stepped in. She was laid off despite arguing it was her private life. However, there is definitely a blurring of private vs. public life. Jouvent: It is quite human to be exhibitionist. We try to create a watertight division between work and life, but increasingly people are crossing that line.
  • Question: Are young people pursuing leadership positions as much? Dery: We are seeing that some young people are not interested in advancing as high as possible, which is fine. But they cannot also complain that they are not advancing as quickly if they are choosing to remain in comfortable positions. The average age of new hires in Canada is 36 years old, so not all people who are fresh to government are that “young.” Colin: I have already come across the issue of new recruits desiring a big title. Work-life balance takes priority. Dery: It will be interesting to see how these people change their minds over the next few years.
  • Question: Some Gen Y are interested in multiple careers. Have you thought about making it possible for people to volunteer or contribute part-time? Colin: In Belgium, that is not possible. Jobs are full-time. Dery: Same in Canada, but we are allowing people to take some time off to pursue personal interests.


My Presentation: Gen “Y Not?” – Building the Next Generation of Government!


Roundtable 2: Examples of Human Resource Management

Anik Chaumartin, PricewaterHouseCoopers

Sixty-four percent of PWC employees are Gen Y – fascinating stat. Rather than giving a recap of Ms. Chaumartin, I thought I’d just embed a video of her covering the topic (for all the French readers/speakers): http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xhaa61_anik-chaumartin-pwc_news

Robert Shriver, Senior Policy Counsel, U.S. Office of Personnel Management

  • A 2008 government report indicated that “more people with 20+ years of work experience are getting hired by government than people with less than 2 years of experience.”
  • Until President Obama came to office, people could not apply for a job with a resume. Some job announcements were 15-20 pages long. The average time to hire was 131 days. Hence, the need for hiring reform!
  • In 2010, OPM re-launched The Pathways Program – from the Executive Order: “There are hereby established the Internship Program and the Recent Graduates Program, which, along with the Presidential Management Fellows Program, as modified herein, shall collectively be known as the Pathways Programs.”
  • Sometimes agency hiring manager get caught up in the legal ramifications of posting and engage in the “post and pray” method: post the job and pray someone finds it.
  • Instead, we’re encouraging them to create an established presence on college campuses and help interns to have an opportunity to apply for job openings when their tenure as interns comes to a close.
  • Need more strategic workforce planning, including a strong connection with universities and public administration/policy schools to design curriculum that corresponds to real requirements in agencies.
  • The phrase “good enough for government” came about after World War II and has become symbolic of inefficiency…and makes it harder to convince Gen Y should consider civil service for their career.
  • We have to do a better job of providing positive encouragement for public servants and letting potential recruits know what we do.

Mikkel Plannthin, Chief of the Division for Public Management, Denmark

  • One third of the workforce in Denmark works in public service.
  • Many of the next generation are not wanting to perform routine jobs, but we need them to do that work, too. So a good method is to give them some routine jobs and some that are more “meaningful” projects.
  • Something we learned recently is that there is a rise in the average amount of sick time among our younger employees…we are not sue why, but are exploring a bit more.
  • Summary: Manage individuals, not generations.

Open Discussion

  • Question: Can you say more about that absenteeism? Have you seen that elsewhere? Chaumartin: One of the things to do with the absentee issue is to create peer pressure. If a member of the team is gone, it impacts others…and those others should be empowered to hold their colleague accountable.
  • Questions: Are there differences according to gender? General consensus was no.
  • Plannthin: There are many shared values across generations and we need to market generally the value of public service to all generations (and citizens). There’s not so much a difference in values (the “why” behind the work) as there are in preferences for how we work (the “how” we work).
  • Shriver: There is a gap between young people who don’t want to work in “civil service / government” but want to engage in “public service.” In other words, they need to understand that it’s not boring, stodgy work, but a real contribution to society. Once they understand the specifics of what they’d do coupled with the impact they can have, young people are far more interested in working for government.


The “Administration Challenge 2020′

– Renaud Large, Task Manager, Communication, General Directorate for State Modernization (DGME)

– Marianne Escurat, 2011 Prize Winner: Training for Community Manager in French Administration

  • In France, there is a modernization initiative that began in 2007. Here’s some information from their website: “The General Directorate of State Modernization is a “task force” of reform in the conduct of many transformation projects. DGME advises departments in their transformation strategies, identifies modernization best practices and supports in the implementation of plans and decisions adopted within the framework of the General Policy Review (RGPP). It also involves “listening to users and their expectations, identifies priorities and develops the strategy to improve services to users and several pilot projects inter-structuring in the areas of simplification, hospitality and e-government.”
  • As part of this reform, the “Administration Challenge 2020” was a contest for young people to generate projects and ideas for improving government. The project intentionally involved schools from throughout France and elicited the response of 93 teams. In year 2, they introduced digital vehicles for communication, including a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a blog.
  • The winner (Ms. Escurat) provided an idea to train community managers of social networks within the French administration. Before this project, she did not know a lot about how government works and said that this project introduced her to the challenges of the French administration and its use of social network…creating mutual value for the three key groups: citizens, civil servants and students.

Round Table 3: New Means of Communication

– Antonio Casilli, Sociologist and Teacher at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

– Maria Jesus Gallego Estremera, Deputy Director of Communication for Spanish Vice Presidency and Ministry of the Interior, Coordinator of Plan Contigo Website

– Tim Davies, Consultant and Researcher, UK

  • Casilli: We need to stop thinking about these changes as information technology and more about relationship building. Personal space is blurred with public space and there is the potential for anarchy with social media…so it behooves the government to get involved in the places where the people are engaging in conversations. The Internet is a tool for revolution and a new tool for people to organize and be heard. Will the government be part of the revolution?
  • Gallego Estremera: “Plan Contigo” is a project that tries to educate young about safety and security issues and to forge better connections with public safety officers. Contigo means “with you” and tries to indicate that the police are “with” the students – not against them. “Plan Contigo” was built on a Ning- / Facebook-like platform called Tuenti.com. The spread the word about the community via email. They posted photos and videos each week and shared the latest updates via a short weekly message of no more than 200-300 words – written in “cool” language that appeals to young people. Topics included Internet safety, bullying, drugs, harassment, etc. It also covered information about current events, such as earthquake preparedness and response and how to protect yourself from hackers. Currently, there are over 70,000 subscribers to the email.
  • Davis: There is a gap between citizens and government – both in terms of communication channels and expectations – everything from open information to open dialogue and collaboration. We need to be careful how we talk about success. While 70,000 is an impressive number, so is a project that connects 10-15 people to their government in ways that they were not connected before. Davis cited an example of opening up government to young people in which the UK Spending Challenge had a policy of excluding people under 18. He wrote a blog challenging this restriction. The government was listening and asked him to help them in changing the policy and opening it up to a broader segment of UK citizens. The key here is that the Internet creates feedback loops that didn’t exist when the government relied only on letters and leaflets to inform the public. It’s also important to remember that young people can be “experts” on the issues that are important to them. Don’t think the experts are people with degrees and vast experience in a particular subject.
  • General Ideas: Sometimes government will receive negative feedback in online conversations, but it’s important to remember that online tools create an opportunity to see the full spectrum of polarization in society and allow government to respond more effectively, especially when there is a concentration of opinion that suggests a need for change.

Roundtable 4: Rethinking Training

– Renate Meissner, Lecturer at the Lower Saxony Tax Academy, Member of Regional and Federal Working Groups on Social Networking and eLearning, Germany.

– Fengchum Miao, UNESCO

– Paul Mathias, General Inspector, French Ministry of National Education

  • I did not catch all the discussion here, but a couple things interested me. In particular, Meissner talked about an online game that was designed to educate tax officials about taxation in Germany. They found that adults did not use it as much, but young people were quite active. They also created videos that explained the same concepts. This project emboldened them to engage young people in the process of changing “German government jargon” into language that the students could understand. (Note: I am going to learn more about this for application to Plain Language activities in the United States.). In a follow-up email, Ms. Meissner shared the following commentary.

    “[The game] is about the technical use of a software for the assessment of taxes. And we ask the user to decide between learning or playing. A little elephant with a blue cap accompanies the learner during the program and the quizzes.”

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Susan Thomas

Bonjour, Andrew!

The remark about office space, from Brigitte Colin, interested me a great deal. If there are no designated spaces, I wonder how they manage that or if they have a “space hoteling” policy.

Your trip sounds fascinating and I wil continue to read your blog. I am envious of your trip to France!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks, Susan. I am trying to find more information from Ms. Colin…possibly highlighting as a future GovLoop Project of the Week! Don’t be jealous…it’s all business. Okay, so eating breakfast in the shadow of Notre Dame was pretty cool…and watching the sunset at the Eiffel Tower last night. But other than that… 😉

Charlelie Jourdan

Excellent post – thank you very much..

It is quite interesting, being french myself, that our administration is deploying such efforts for understanding the new generation of civil servants. Hope it can serve as a basis for effective change.

Thanks again for your commitment in transcribing all these ideas ! Enjoy Paris !

Andrew Krzmarzick

Wonderful, Charlelie. It’s a positive sign that you are hosting this event, so there is an intentional effort for improving public service.

Alicia Mazzara

Thanks for the write-up! The event sounds really interesting… I’m especially curious about the discussion re: work-life balance and how telework and technology affects that. Even (or maybe especially) Gen Yers get technology fatigue.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Alicia – Interesting question about technology fatigue. That idea was not addressed directly, but I’d imagine that it will important to encourage employees to take “digital vacations” in order to relax the portions of the brain that are processing so much information all the time.

Scott Span

Such a wealth of info and varying perspectives.. Love learning what those outside the US are doing. Thanks for sharing.