SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Attracting millennials – that generation born between the early '80s and early 2000s – to state jobs and keeping them in the public work force can be tricky.
“They kind of expect a custom deal,” said Christie Borchin, deputy director of the California Department of Technology’s Office of Professional Development, during a Feb. 24 panel on recruiting millennials at the California Public Sector CIO Academy in Sacramento.
For instance, Borchin said one of her millennial employees recently requested a salary raise – to double the current salary – simply because the individual had completed every task given. “You need to really be aware of what makes millennials tick,” she said, "and adapting your style to meet that.”
Another panelist, millennial state employee Crystal Taylor, acknowledged that her generation can be difficult for managers to understand. “I know we’re tough, aren’t we,” she said, adding that millennials have a different definition of loyalty than their predecessors.
“Gen X has a sense of loyalty to institutions when that institution is responsive to their needs,” said Taylor, an IT section manager with the state Franchise Tax Board. “Millennials don’t view institutional loyalty at all; there is a sense of loyalty to the individuals who help them.”
And with that came additional guidance for not only recruiting millennials into the public sector, but holding onto them once you've got them.
Offering help and guidance is one way for managers to create trust and loyalty with millennials. Keeping in touch with them is key, whether it’s during the recruiting process, while they’re employed with your organization, or even after they've left for another job. Borchin says it’s important to stay in contact with millennials after a job offer, to ask them questions and send background materials. “Let them know you care,” she said.
Taylor said she received updates every three days from the FTB hiring manager when she was in the application process -- practice she recommends for other agency managers who are courting millennial workers. “Emulate this for a candidate you like,” she said. Hiring managers also should ask preferred candidates to contact them before accepting a job elsewhere, Taylor added. “These folks are hungry for coaching and mentoring. So even in the selection process, say, ‘I love you, I want you, but I’m neutral enough to mentor you through this process.’”
And if your agency or department has a mentorship program, Taylor said calling attention to that during the interview process is a plus.
For Gen Xers, part of the learning process is to learn by doing – to “figure out” a process that others in the organization already know. But millennials have a different approach to problem solving -- they don’t want to “go figure it out,” Taylor said. “Why do I want to spend two hours figuring out what you already know? Download it to me, and I can spend that two hours moving [things] forward. Set aside the perception that 10 minutes of [information] download is laziness. Allowing them to take it forward will challenge and excite.”
For millennials, work is supposed to be fun, Taylor said. “Fun isn’t the thing we have when we leave the office; it’s what we want all day.” For this generation, there’s a free-flowing intersection between work and life. “Bringing joy to what they do should be celebrated and recognized,” she said. Keep millennials engaged and challenged by giving them additional responsibilities, especially when offering a pay raise isn’t an option. “It makes them feel they’re moving somewhere, being challenged,” Taylor added. “This is a group that loves change so mix it up for them.” Also keep in mind that a millennial’s timeframe for accomplishing goals is 18 months or less – anything beyond that is incomprehensible.
Millennials have a need for instant gratification, which means they’re always on point to deliver rapidly, Taylor said. But as a manager, you need to provide frequent feedback to fill this need, said Erica Salinas, workforce planning analyst with the California Department of Human Resources. “That helps them fulfill that desire for wanting information back quickly,” she said. “This is their opportunity to learn, because you’re offering information for what they’re doing well and opportunities for improvement.”
When managers deliver recognition, make sure you recognize the effort, not just end result. Salinas called out a Stanford University study in which two groups of children were given IQ tests. Children in one group were recognized for their intelligence; children in the other were recognized for their effort. When offered a more challenging test, less than one-third of the kids in the “intelligence” group accepted, versus more than 90 percent from the “effort” group. “You’re internalizing self-worth when recognizing for intelligence,” Salinas said. “They don’t want to mess up. But when you recognize for effort, that’s an opportunity to provide coaching and mentoring.”
Millennials are particularly keen on societal mission and contribution to the global good, so putting their work in this context inspires them, Taylor said. “You will be amazed at how much you can get from them with [a] societal mission.” Borchin added that job postings should focus on the value of work and importance to the organization.
Create an environment -- both through location and culture -- for collaboration. On the culture side, managers should encourage staff members to propose alternatives and new ways of doing things, Taylor said. And from a physical standpoint, agencies should create smaller interaction spaces (versus a 20-person boardroom).
While collaborative approaches are meaningful, millennials still expect and want individual attribution. “They want collective team-oriented tasks, but within this big project, you’re responsible for X,” Taylor said. “And when X is successful, call them out for a job well done. This is very important.”
Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.