OPM: Millennial feds like their jobs but don’t stay long

The federal government appears to be doing a better job of recruiting young employees than retaining them, according to a report that the Office of Personnel Management released today.

Most federal millennials, defined as people born after 1980, are happy with their jobs and supervisors, and would recommend their organization to others. Yet the median time they spend in the government is 3.8 years.

The report is the first in a series that the Office of Personnel Management plans to base on the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. OPM administered the survey in late spring to gauge federal employees’ attitudes about their agency leaders, supervisors, work and pay and benefits. OPM has not yet made the complete survey data public.

“The federal government is a great place for millennials to work, and a snapshot of the data confirms this,” said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, in a press briefing Tuesday. “It shows that millennials, who make up 16 percent of the federal workforce, like the work they do, the people they work for and the growth opportunities that they have in the federal government.”

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The report offers insight into the youngest generation of federal workers and serves as a possible recruitment tool. While millennials make up 16 percent of the workforce now, hiring and keeping them become increasingly important to agencies faced with graying workforces and the eventual retirements of most senior-level staff.

“The boomers are going to leave one way or another,” said John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service, which uses the survey results to rank the best agencies to work for. “We should be paying disproportionate attention to the millennials. If they leave, or they burn out, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Archuleta has traveled across the country talking to young federal workers, veterans and college students about what the federal government can offer. She’s not surprised by what the report says about millennials.

“They are looking for work that is purpose driven and where they think and believe they can make a difference,” she said. “Nearly two-thirds of them are satisfied with their jobs and would recommend their organization as a good place to work. They feel that their supervisors listen to what they have to say and are doing a good jobs themselves.”

The vast majority of millennial federal employees — 86 percent — say the work they do is important. While high, it is 4 percentage points lower than the governmentwide average, based on OPM’s 2013 survey. But millennials are more likely to say their supervisors both treat them with respect and support employees’ development.

That finding pleasantly surprised Palguta, considering frequently cited differences between how millennials and others approach their work.

“Conventional wisdom has it that bright millennials and their codgy supervisors from another era don’t communicate well. This is breaking that stereotype,” he said.

Millennials come, but don’t stay long

But the report also highlights statistics that should concern federal managers and senior leaders. Just a third of the millennials who responded to the survey said creativity and innovation were rewarded in their organization. A similar percentage said they were satisfied with their opportunities for advancement.

The findings underscore a relatively high turnover of millennial employees, said John Salamone, a vice president of Federal Management Partners, citing OPM data that shows that the government hired roughly 601,000 millennials over the past five years, but lost nearly 400,000 in the same period of time.

“They are coming into government during their prime years, when they could make a contribution, learn how the government works, and — if they are not happy where they are — transition to another position within the government,” he said. Instead, millennials tend to leave. But it’s not clear whether they eventually return to government work.

Some of the most popular federal jobs for millennials are related to compliance inspection, an occupation that may not lend itself to creativity or innovation. In addition, more than half of millennial feds do not have bachelor’s degrees, according to the report.

An emphasis on recruitment and diversity

In response to calls for more creative tasks, the government is piloting ways to let employees work on creative projects outside of their daily work, the report said. Yet OPM is spending a lot of energy on recruitment, developing a new plan to attract millennials and other job candidates.

Among the tactics, the personnel agency is using Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms in efforts to reach a younger, more diverse group of job- seekers. In her first year at the helm, Archuleta has crisscrossed the country to speak at colleges, including those that specialize in educating minority students.

But it’s not clear that the effort has borne fruit, Salamone said.

“It’s wonderful that Director Archuleta is talking to college students about diversity and diverse opportunities in public service,” he said. “But what is the return on investment? Is this leading to more diversity in the applicant pool? Are those students being offered jobs in government? And if so, how satisfied are they?”

The report suggests the government may be doing a better job in recruiting Hispanics, long underrepresented in the workforce. Ten percent of millennial federal employees consider themselves Hispanic, compared with 8.2 percent of the government’s total workforce. African- Americans appear to have lost ground, however. Just 15 percent of federal millennials are African-American, compared to 18 percent of the government as a whole. About two-thirds of millennials are white, mirroring the greater workforce.

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