Federal Survey Reveals Generational Conflict

Susan Hall

We've been told over and over that a tsunami of retirements loom in the federal work force and that Uncle Sam has trouble keeping new hires.


Federal News Radio in January did a special report, "The Need for the Next Generation," on the efforts to bring a new generation of government workers on board. In a new special report, "New Face of Government," it reveals results of a survey of 850 federal employees of all ages conducted July 11-20.


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It's interesting that in delineating between the older workers and younger workers, it set the line at age 35. Among the results:

  • 40 percent of older workers said they can learn from their younger coworkers.
  • 76 percent of young feds said they could "learn a lot" from their coworkers with more than a decade of experience.
  • Yet only a third of younger workers perceived their older coworkers to be willing to be mentors.


It revealed other problems: The more experienced feds look down on what they see as a sense of entitlement among younger workers and say they lack communication skills. Meanwhile, new feds see their older coworkers as unmotivated and not adaptable. Ouch! Add in a recent finding that you're more likely to die than be fired from many government agencies, the stereotypes of an unmotivated, fossilized government work force start to ring true.


Only 10 percent of the older group said they thought young feds would stick with a government job their entire career. Someone should clue these people in to the fact that in this new world order, only a minority of job candidates would do such a thing. In fact, job coaches have told me that employers have serious questions these days about workers who stay in the same position more than two or three years.


Yet among the younger workers, half said they want to stay in government for their entire career. Eighteen percent said they would not stay forever and 31 percent weren't sure.


The older guard dinged the young workers for relying too heavily on electronic communication and being "full of themselves." It quotes an IT worker in the State Department, who wrote:

As a group, the younger IT folks want to be managers well before they've mastered the skills necessary to do the basic tasks of their jobs. After promotion, they lack the technical skills to train newer IT workers, resulting in the blind leading the blind and a deterioration of the IT support where they are stationed.

Everybody loves to grump about the next generation - here our Ken-Hardin speaks from his own experience - and my colleague Ann All has written quite a bit about the generational differences, astutely asking whether they're really that different from the rest of us.


In a separate piece, Federal News Radio offers some practical tips for engaging a new generation in the workplace. It's familiar stuff: provide feedback, remember that mentoring goes both ways, offer recognition and rewards, and welcome new ideas. For recognition, it found the younger workers would just like a simple "thank you," with a handwritten note coming in second. But here's the kicker: They valued a handwritten note more than any other generation. So how hard can it be to just get along?

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