As the veterans and baby boomers prepare to make their graceful
exits from the full-time federal workforce, agencies are exploring
the best ways to pass the torch to the next generation
of federal employees. In the next five years, 44 percent of all
federal workers will be eligible to retire, and 61 percent will
four years later. In addition, nearly 90 percent of six thousand
executives will be eligible to retire in the next ten years, and
federal workers may retire by 2010.
In the middle of this transition, Generations X and Y are striving
demonstrate their readiness for increasing responsibility and
roles. At the same time, baby boomers are finding creative ways to
to contribute beyond retirement, through consulting with their
or other federal agencies and training others in their areas of
Agencies are instituting plans and programs to ensure that the
is smooth, including exploring internships and recruitment
attract younger workers.
However, recruitment efforts are not limited to young people.
initiatives are targeting individuals who are currently employed in
the private or nonprofit sectors, enticing them with opportunities
promotion and promising career paths. Other agencies are conducting
focused skills gap analysis followed by a targeted knowledge
The Graduate School, USDA, offers a workshop, Generation Shift: The
Emerging Federal Workforce, which explores this phenomenon and
to address it. The three-hour course encourages participants to
how they look at the generations and recommends ways to meet each
groups needs and career goals.The Generations
For the first time in our nations history, four generations
are making an impact on the workforce. Most of
the veterans are retired and some of the baby boomers are
beginning to make their break from the full-time workforce.
However, some boomers will be working for another
ten to fifteen years.
The following subsections and Table 1 describe some
general traits of the four generations, but in examining their
work styles and aspirations, remembering not to stereotype
them is important. People are individuals and should not
be placed in boxes, and clearly not everyone in a generation
will exhibit the traits described. These characteristics
are merely guidelines for understanding some of the dynamics
that affect relationships in the office.
The veterans, or G.I. generation, fall into two segments.
Tom Brokaw called this segment, born between 1901
and 1925, The Greatest Generation in his book of the
same name. The G.I. Generation fought two world wars
and survived the Great Depression. Civic virtue is important
to this group as well as church, club, and community
This segment was born between 1926 and 1945. Some
were too young to remember the Depression or serve during
World War II. However, they were influenced by the patriotism
and self-sacrifice of the time. Today, the youngest
among them are in their sixties and may still be working,
but they are approaching eligibility for retirement.
Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are considered
loyal and hardworking. As demonstrated during the
1960s, many in this group question authority and institutions.
They prefer autonomy, are well educated, and often
have higher income levels than their parents. Boomers
seek to ensure that office policies and procedures are enforced
in a balanced and equitable manner.
Generation X was born between 1965 and 1981. They
value flexibility and balance in work/life relationships. They
prefer direct, personal communication from all in an institution,
regardless of title or position. They observe the
rapidly changing world.
Generation Y, referred to as millennials among other things,
are the newest members of the workforce, born between 1982
and 2003. They grew up with technology and never knew
a time without cell phones and the Internet. They often think
in bullet points and are ravenous researchers. Speed is important
and they prefer rapid feedback.
Why outline some of the characteristics of the generations?
They are all working together, and the multi-generational
differences in attitudes and styles related to work can
create conflict. In a recent case study by the Society for Human
Resource Management, human resource experts describe
some options for addressing these potential conflicts:
Ensure that company policies are applied and enforced consistently
across the organization. For instance, younger
generations may take advantage of flexi-work or
telecommuting arrangements, which boomers could
perceive as a lack of work ethic or an inequality in
the implementation of this benefit. Make sure the
parameters are understood by all employees.
Refine a mentoring program and find champions in each
age group. When you think of mentors, you may
picture an older member of your team. Consider
using younger workers as well. Many have an appropriate
combination of experience and knowledge
that well suits them for an advisory role with
colleagues of any age.
Create forums for employees to connect. Sometimes employees
need to spend time together outside the
pressure of specific assignments. In fact, these situations
provide the best opportunity for employees to
learn about one another and recognize their common
experiences. Of course, the differences may be
interesting as well, so facilitate conversations on a
range of topics from technology to music to memorable
historical events. Everyone may be surprised
by the number of shared perspectives.
Begin with the business issues rather than the people
issues. Meet with managers to learn about work requirements and
make decisions on the basis of the
business needs of the organization. Then address
the values conflicts from the perspective of the
most efficient and effective way to get the work
done so that all employees feel they are making
Focus on the teams common goals and how unique perspectives
can lead to optimal results. Do you have departmental
goals that are shared by all employees in
a unit? What have you accomplished as a team that
makes people proud? What are the common challenges?
These kinds of questions focus less on the
differences and more on the shared vision. The
next step may include the administration of an assessment,
such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,
to understand the varying characteristics that make
the sum greater than its individual parts. Help your
team gain a sense of mutual appreciation for the
unique contributions of each team member, regardless
Conduct a survey. Sometimes the best option is to
provide employees with a forum to describe their
experiences. You may want to distribute a survey
and ask employees to complete and return it
anonymously, or schedule a time with each individual
and ask the same series of questions. With
this information in hand, you can better address
the specific circumstances of your team.
As a significant portion of the federal workforce becomes
eligible for retirement or seeks to change its fulltime
status to part-time or contract, the federal government
needs to come up with inventive strategies for recruiting
new employees. The key is continually upgrading
recruitment efforts to communicate effectively with
each generation to fill job requirements. Here are some
proven strategies that can be explored.
Veterans and Boomers
These two groups already have incentive to work for
the federal government. They have been involved in this
type of work for years; are familiar with the rules, regulations,
and work environment; and want to serve out
their terms. Hiring them back as consultants is a plus.
Terms and conditions can be worked out individually.
Their experience is invaluable, and they can mentor
younger workers.Generations X and Y
These generations want to hear the benefits of federal
government employment. Here are a few items to
General wage increases
Increased locality pay
Expansion of benefits
Growth in high-paid jobs as workers extend careers.
Generations X and Y change jobs more frequently
(every 2.8 years). According to a George Washington University
survey, less than one in ten Phi Beta Kappa college
graduates rate the government as their first choice
The Next Generation
Communicate with the next generation of federal
workers in the way they wish to receive information. Use
more predictive applicant assessment tools. Implement balanced
recruitment strategies, not only passive Internet postings
or a narrow pool of college job fairs. Market what
is important about the job and expectations. Evaluate
agency hiring processes. Always avoid stereotyping applicants
by generational assumptions.
Here is a top ten list for recruiting Generations X and
Y (and everyone else in the job market):
1. Provide career coaching and direct support.
2. Give special recognition for achievement.
3. Increase compensation regularly, especially after key
4. Give increased or new responsibilities.
5. Give best hires new titles/promotions at least once
every two years.
6. Cultivate an informal work environment.
7. Establish formal extracurricular/learning time.
8. Provide a diverse set of job responsibilities.
9. Feature special project assignments.
10. Offer formal rotation programs.