Actually, young people who join the government stay on

The latest study of federal employee attrition rates depicts a stable workforce

“My, people com and go so quickly here!” Those spoke an awestruck Dorothy when the good witch’s bubble faded away. The same might be said of so-called Generation Y federal employees, those under the age of 30s.

Or can it?

According to the latest government attrition analysis by the Partnership for Public Service, the rate of departures in fiscal 2021, at 6.1%, was about normal. By age, the highest attrition rate of 16.7% takes place among those over 60. That’s hardly shocking. I mean, that’s when people retire. The retirees, then, really drive the attrition average. I’d point out 16% or 17% of those in their 60s leaving is hardly the retirement “tsunami” that observers love to warn about. Although, it does represent a good deal of experience and institutional knowledge.

The second-highest rate of attrition, 8.5%, takes place among those under the age of 30, the group that encompasses late Generation Y and early Generation Z. Attrition drops to 4.4% for those 30-39, and to 2.8% for those 40-49.

What’s remarkable about the study is how unremarkable it is. Government senior career people often lament the lack of young talent coming into the government. And when they do, they leave. But hasn’t that always been the case? I stayed in my first professional job for about 14 months. The next one for about 18 months. The work was good, but in tiny organizations with no appreciable future. My third job came with real advancements in a large company with lots of great people. That’s how it is in a nascent career.

For sure, the government fits that latter description. To keep people, agency leadership must get them to buy into a particular mission for the length of a career, or make sure that the restless can get to opportunities somewhere else in the vast government.

Much has been stated — mostly by old farts — about the qualities of the Generation Y crowd, and now the Z. Yes, in Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas or at Starbucks, they’re entitled and opinionated. My personal experience is they’re also smart, savvy, hard-working and committed.

A few other observations:

From my reading of the Partnership’s report, there’s scant correlation between the best places to work and agency attrition rates. Veterans Affairs, which was above average in employee engagement also had the highest average attrition rate, at 7.1%. The State Department, which had below average engagement rages, also had a low attrition rate, 4.4%. The lowest ranked large agency in the Best Places to Work list, Homeland Security, also had below average attrition of 5.1%.

Also of note is the attrition rate by rank. It’s a 14.5% for GS 1-4 individuals, which presumably are the younger federal employees. The lowest, and below average, attrition rates occur in the GS 10-15 employees. Attrition starts to rise again for the Senior Executive Service, which tend to be close to retirement age. That’s also when many head for that 10 years of industry, where they can sock it away while still knowing that FERS annuity will still be there.

On the whole, the attrition figures belie the notion that the government has trouble retaining people. As an employer, the government has at its disposal many of the same solutions as industry. Offer people real chances for promotion and growth if that’s what they want. And make sure they get to do engaging work. What’s the mystery?

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Abigail Russ

In 2015, DIY Network announced Mr. T was getting his own home-improvement show called “I Pity the Tool.” At least one episode aired.

Source: CBS News

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