Survey reveals both opportunities, rift between generations

Monday - 7/25/2011, 6:00am EDT

(This story is part of a Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government.")

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

An exclusive Federal News Radio survey reveals a willingness for federal employees of all ages to learn from each other in a multi-generational workplace. At the same time, the results highlight a rift between the generations.

Federal News Radio surveyed more than 850 federal employees of all ages between July 11 and July 20. Feds under 35 accounted for 27 percent of respondents. Of the longer-term feds who took the survey, 43 percent have worked in government for more than 20 years. (Please note, when viewing the results of the survey, all respondents were asked questions 1-4 and 19. Feds 34-years-old or younger were then asked to answer questions 5-18, while feds 35 and older were asked to answer questions 20-25.)

Young feds want to learn, become leaders

Generation X'ers, Y'ers and particularly Millenials grew up surrounded by technology, a skill that older generations may not have fully mastered. Of the respondents age 35 and older, 40 percent said they can learn from their younger coworkers.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of young feds said they could "learn a lot" from their coworkers who had more than a decade of work experience. However, only a third of young feds perceived their older coworkers as willing to be mentors.

The survey also revealed, longer-term feds consider their younger counterparts entitled and lacking communication skills, while new feds see their older coworkers as unmotivated and not adaptable.

Older feds also believe young feds won't stay in government. More than two-thirds of respondents age 35 and older said they did not expect young feds to stay in government for their entire career. Only 10 percent said they thought young feds would stick with a government job. But more young feds plan on staying in government work longer than older feds think. Half of respondents under age 35 said they want to stay in government for their entire career. 18 percent said they would not stay in government forever and 31 percent said they were unsure.

Young feds also have aspirations to reach a senior level. 53 percent said they planned on becoming a member of the Senior Executive Service or reaching a GS-15 level.

But a continued pay freeze or changes to federal benefits would be the top reason for young feds to leave government. Other reasons to leave are a lack of career development, a better job offer in the private sector and frustration with bureaucracy.

Older feds: New hires not fully prepared

Only 7.8 percent of older feds said younger employees have all the skills necessary to do their jobs effectively.

The majority said young feds come into government without a good understanding of how government works. They also said young feds lack patience and good communication skills.

"They do not know how to communicate person to person, only machine to machine," wrote one respondent.

Another said, "Communications by emails and texts are abbreviated and lack detail. Extra follow-ups usually needed to clarify."

Some young feds also come onto the job with a sense of entitlement and an air of arrogance, according to some respondents' comments.

An IT employee with the State Department 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."

One respondent wrote that young feds are "full of themselves." The comment continued, "[They] have been told so much by our society that they are the best and the brightest, greatest thing since sliced bread. Therefore, they already know everything."

Another wrote about young feds, "They don't like to be told what to do."

Young feds may have a lot of ideas to showcase on the job, but, one respondent noted, "Their passion is ahead of the ability to make it work."

Young feds want flattened government hierarchy

"There is too much hierarchy and not enough collaboration," wrote one young federal employee.

In comments, many young feds expressed their frustration with the top-down structure of government. Some said coworkers were promoted based on tenure, not ability.

Along those lines, young feds also said employees must be held accountable to perform - regardless of time in service.

"Non-performers should not be allowed the opportunity to under-perform simply because they 'can't be fired,'" a respondent wrote. "These problems can and should be addressed/resolved during the hiring process."

Another wrote that the federal performance management system must be revamped. "In my agency, once you've been here a year you're virtually untouchable. We have people that haven't done any work in over a year, yet will get a fully satisfactory on their review since management doesn't want to go through the magnitudes of paperwork to address the situation."

Check out more from the Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government."

Part 1 - Introduction: New Face of Government

Part 2 - Survey reveals both opportunities, rift between generations

Part 3 - Practical tips for engaging young feds

Part 4 - Young feds share what they really think (Read the profiles of six young feds)