The Generational Shift in Government Employees Calls for Fresh Thinking

  • Employer strategies
  • 1/19/2017
Young Millennial at Work

Baby Boomers are retiring, but most government agencies haven’t yet accommodated the Millennials who will replace them. It’s time to rethink recruiting.

A huge chunk of our population has reached or is about to reach the age of retirement. Baby Boomers have already left the workforce or are getting ready to. So it’s no secret that governmental entities are watching some of their most loyal and experienced personnel accept their gold watches and head for the fishing holes, golf courses, and open roads. This reality didn’t sneak up on us, but just the same, many governments are not as prepared for this change as they would like to be and are finding that optimal replacements are difficult to come by.

For the second year in a row, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (CLSGE) reports that human resources managers at governmental agencies are most challenged by recruiting and retaining qualified personnel, planning for succession, and developing staff. These same managers also say they have critical unfilled positions that remain vacant because of a dearth of talent.

Whether your governmental organization is reacting to the retirement fallout or still has time to prepare, you should make managing this turnover a priority. You will be especially effective at it if you think of it in terms of positive operational changes. That means it’s time to focus on the current largest population in the workforce — Millennials — and understand and embrace the paradigm shift that comes with the generational shift.

First order of business: change your perspective

Millennials think much differently than the Boomers who’ve all just headed for the exits. The changing of the guard calls for a change in outlook. So, first and foremost, take this inevitable transition off the back burner and square with your new reality. The CSLGE noted the largest barrier to appropriate planning was that leadership didn’t make it a priority. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Use the transition in personnel as a reason to rethink your organization’s processes and its structure. Start by abandoning the “this is how it has always been done” mindset. I’m willing to bet your government has processes and philosophies in place simply because they have been the norm for a long time. It is very possible that the organizational structure and responsibilities that were put in place a generation ago made sense then but don’t necessarily today. It may even be that some of those vacated positions don’t actually need to be refilled or can be creatively absorbed into other roles.

Next: change your recruiting tactics

Your governmental organization likely has to balance the demand for increased services with static revenue streams. The costs of providing existing services continue to rise, and still you are expected to make budgetary room for more of them. “Doing more with less” is a nice little bromide, but there comes a point when it reaches its practical maximum and you believe you can no longer compete for talent with limited salary and benefits packages. In fact, the CSLGE reported that only 61 percent of governments believe their salaries are competitive in the labor market.

But here’s the thing: Millennials aren’t necessarily in it for the dollars. They tend to favor flexibility and meaningful work over high salaries. And that is something you can give them. So don’t consider yourself priced out of the market and throw in the towel. Instead, show how service in government can be a satisfying career, and offer alternative work schedules and remote access.

Highlight your organization’s strengths

Local governments serve our communities, and this purpose is engaging to the up-and-coming generation. Most candidates aren’t just looking for a job; they want a career they can believe in. If you’re still posting job descriptions that list minimum requirements and salary grades and read more like technical manuals than invitations to be part of something important, you’re selling yourself short.

Let go of the traditional workweek

Not everyone needs to be in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The CSLGE trend analysis noted that the most popular flexible work arrangement was 10 hours a day, four days a week. Some people prefer an earlier or later workweek schedule, like 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Working from home one or two days per week is also a very appealing option to Millennials. It helps them better care for their families and save money on commuting and parking costs, workday meals, and professional clothing. There is inevitably a level of trust that needs to be extended (and earned) for these options to work, but such flexible arrangements go a long way for today’s candidates.

Get outside help

If you keep coming up short in finding the right candidates, soliciting a third party to consult or perform the work might be a smart choice. It will be more beneficial in the long run if you spend the time and effort to ensure you ultimately have the right people in place. Have an open mind, and embrace change!

How we can help

CLA’s state and local government practitioners have assisted many organizations through personnel transitions. We can help you plan for or adjust to the inevitable generational shift and rethink your processes and priorities to attract and engage the talent you need to serve your stakeholders with excellence. We can also provide interim outsourced services while you seek out permanent replacements.

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