As Florida Representative-elect Maxwell Frost, the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress, prepares to move to Washington, federal agency managers want more young Americans to join government service.
It’s not just a want. It’s a need.
Last fiscal year saw the highest number of federal retirements processed since 2013. More than 114,500 older federal workers left the government, up from about 97,000 in 2021.
Not far behind are members of Generation X: those born from 1965 to 1980 who are between the ages of 57 and 42 this year. This cohort makes up about 42% of the federal workforce and represents a wave of retirements still to come.
Meanwhile, Gen Z, which includes anyone born from 1997 to 2012, accounts for less than 2% of federal employees, according to data from the Partnership for Public Service, a good government nonprofit.
As the federal workforce ages out, not as many young people are considering government service. Less than half of recent graduates said they would consider federal employment, according to a study by Qualtrics. As a result, younger workers are underrepresented in government while older employees are overrepresented, creating a recruiting challenge for the federal government to fill skill gaps and provide continuity of service to taxpayers.
In 2021, the average turnover rate for all ages in the federal government was 6.7%. The Gen Z rate was roughly twice that, at 12.4% — tracking with attrition trends for 20-to-24-year-old federal employees since 2005. And there are still more early 20-year-olds working in the private sector than in the public.
As the government appears likely to risk losing members of Generation X and Z, there are common factors that influence retention for both.
United on work flexibility
Gen X and Z want flexible work schedules, the Partnership’s report found. Gen X employees want to be able to address family needs and life changes during the work week, while Gen Z federal workers expect flexible work since they become employed during the pandemic.
Only about one in three government workers are fully back in the office, according to the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint survey, which could bode well as a retention strategy if agencies permit remote work longterm.
“Senior agency leaders, midlevel managers and supervisors should evaluate the feasibility of remote and hybrid work,” the report said.
Gen Z employees also tied a desire for modern technology into their desire for telework, though Gen X workers also acknowledged frustration-free technology makes for a better work experience.
For agencies that are pushing reentry, the report encouraged making the return-to-office meaningful and engaging, especially for Gen Z.
“The Department of Commerce leaders tried to ensure employees’ return-to-office experience was special,” the report said. “The secretary and deputy secretary stationed themselves in the agency’s lobby to welcome employees and set a tone of accessibility. An a capella group performed at lunch in the auditorium and food trucks were in the courtyard.”
Looking for Engagement
A desire for engagement was not exclusive to reentry. Both Gen Z and Gen X said in the report that passivity, whether in terms of workplace relationships or culture, affects decisions to leave the civil service.
“Gen X civil servants can feel taken for granted, describing themselves as being ‘forgotten’ or ‘ignored’ by leaders who assume their quiet competence means they do not have innovative ideas or want a seat at the table,” the report said.
The ability to join the SES is also a retention factor for some Gen X civil servants.
Many Gen Z employees said they wanted individual relationships with empathetic leaders who support inclusion, whether in making decisions or in feeling valued as part of the team.
Another significant bargaining chip agencies have is pay, which for years has lagged the private sector. Providing competitive benefits is also a way agencies can leverage talent because it’s something both Gen X and Gen Z consider part of a “good” job.
For Gen X, that means receiving full retirement benefits. For Gen Z, federal loan forgiveness programs may be attractive to younger employees, according to the Partnership.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.