How to Bridge the Generation Gap

With 8,000 boomers retiring each day, it’s time to reinvent work.

If there is one common challenge facing public sector organizations today, it’s this: A growing crisis in staffing levels due to accelerating retirement rates and continued tight budgets.

Two statistics show the significance of these factors:

  • As of mid-2014, there were 500,000 fewer local government employees nationwide than in 2008.
  • In some state agencies, it is estimated that more than 40 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2017.

With 8,000 baby boomers retiring each day, managing a multigenerational workplace is becoming even more crucial for government agencies. But while businesses, schools and health care organizations have made progress attracting younger employees, governments are falling behind. Less than 6 percent of college graduates surveyed in 2014 report interest in federal, state or local service compared with 37 percent for private industry and 20 percent for health care.

Millennials (born from 1981-1997) have some distinct differences from other generations. Millennials grew up in the information age with constant connection to social media. They are highly social and impatient, always looking for entertainment, connectivity and technology. To this group, experience is priceless. They are used to constant feedback and rapid career progression. All of these characteristics can challenge many of the standard rules, policies and procedures for hiring and managing employees in government.  

Attracting the Next Generation Workforce

While long-term policy and procedure changes can help create a more inclusive workplace, there are some immediate things government agencies can do to attract millennial workers, including:

  • Reworking job descriptions to advertise what matters to millennials: professional development, mentoring and flexibility. In interviews, think about different experiences and paths a potential employee could take, and emphasize those options. Remember, millennials don’t respond well to rigid hierarchy, and they prefer rapid progression within the organization — a mind-set often perceived as entitlement by Gen Xers and boomers.
  • Emphasizing personal development opportunities. It’s easy to think that government is at a disadvantage because government can’t pay at levels the private sector can, but pay is less important to millennials than personal development. Many government employees have been with the organization for a long time and have a lot of valuable experience to share.
  • Eliminating time-consuming administrative tasks so millennials spend time on “valuable” work. Like Gen Xers, millennials are results-driven; it’s just the timeframe in which the results are achieved that differ. Millennials assume results should be achieved within 40 hours. If efficient, it may take less than 40 hours. Cutting out busywork with business process automation is one way to support efficient-minded millennials — and satisfy busy Gen Xers, too.

Bridging the Gap with Technology

“Flexibility” is a word that’s often thrown around when it comes to millennial workers, but it’s a concept that appeals to all generations. To manage a multigenerational workplace, government agencies should consider adopting flexible workplace technology policies that they may have shied away from in the past.

Mobile is a prime example. Bring your own device, or BYOD, policies are an effective way to support millennials (who value freedom and self-expression) as well as Gen Xers and boomers (who desire more flexibility to balance work with care for children or aging parents).  Before offering BYOD privileges, it is important to set up secure mobile access to internal systems. For instance, enterprise content management, or ECM, systems offer a wide range of functionality to ensure that once the employee finishes accessing privileged information, all data is cleared from their personal device and they are logged out of the session.

Millennials are also very social beings. They’re used to being in constant contact via social media and expect that same support from IT. As a group, millennials prefer nonintrusive, casual modes of communication like email, IM and texting, while Gen Xers prefer face-to-face or phone meetings. IT departments should support social, group chat and videoconferencing, or beware falling risk to “shadow IT” as employees of both generations find their own solutions. 

Finally, when it comes to common interactions, using e-forms as a means to collaborate is a great way to standardize communication. When everyone is submitting a form, there isn’t a debate over what an email may have meant or if it was even read. Using e-forms to control and route common requests ensures everyone has the same information, everyone who needs to review it does, and approvals occur quickly.

The next few years can be a vibrant time of transformation for government agencies as they adopt new technologies and processes to adapt to an evolving workforce. In a recent survey, 64 percent of millennials said it is a priority to make the world a better place, and that they would leave a job if they feel it is not socially responsible. Working for municipal, state or federal government is one of the best ways for millennials to make an impact and a real difference in the world.

Katie Burke is government program strategist at Laserfiche.

(Image via fotogestoeber/