What workers – especially millenials – want

Shutterstock image (by Tale): Working on a digital tablet.

(Image: Tale / Shutterstock)

Workers become disillusioned and abandon ship, or they’re worn down by the grind and turn into paycheck-collecting, bare minimum-doing zombies.

These are not horror stories – they’re the norm.

How can leaders fight the trends and keep employees engaged?

Representatives from the Office of Personnel Management addressed the topic in various discussions at ACT-IAC’s 2015 Management of Change conference, starting with the challenge of getting talent into the government’s pipeline.

A conference attendee recounted the experience of her daughter, a recent University of Virginia grad, applying for government work through USAJobs – a process that saw the daughter’s resume seemingly disappear into the ether with no hope of a quick response (she got a rejection notice six months later, the mom said).

Stephanie Wade, director of OPM’s Innovation Lab, didn’t defend the “awful” system.

“There’s a giant civil service hiring mess,” Wade noted. “USAJobs is just laid on top of it.”

Wade said she and her colleagues are working on an “anthropological” fix that will first take a deep, extended look at what applicants, especially millennials, look for in both jobs and hiring processes, then using that information to push for change in the Byzantine federal hiring system.

In another panel, OPM HR Solutions’ Rebecca Ayers and Jason Parman laid out some depressing stats: Millennials last less than three years, on average, with OPM, and 70 percent of employees are disengaged at work, doing just the bare minimum necessary to keep their jobs.

“Two out of three people sitting at their desks or on the road for your company [or agency] are like, ‘Meh,’” Parman said.

For all the efficiency gains it’s brought, telework has made “toiling away in relative obscurity” even more commonplace across agencies, Parman said, as remote employees miss out on water cooler talk and happy hours that traditionally served as networking tools.

How to remedy the ills?

Leaders need to engage the head (rationality), the heart (emotions) and the hands (motivation) of their teams, Parman said, and:

  • Employees need to feel that managers sincerely care for their well-being.
  • Employees need to feel that they are growing their skills and capabilities.
  • Employees need to have decision-making input.
  • The organization needs to have a socially responsible reputation.
  • The organization needs to deal with customer complaints quickly and effectively.

Parman was careful to note that engagement does not equal satisfaction. The most satisfied organization on the planet could be one full of zombies – only engaged workers will drive innovation and progress.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


  • Contracting
    8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

    DHS contractors face protests – on the streets

    Tech companies are facing protests internally from workers and externally from activists about doing for government amid controversial policies like "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    At OPM, Weichert pushes direct hire, pay agent changes

    Margaret Weichert, now acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, is clearing agencies to make direct hires in IT, cyber and other tech fields and is changing pay for specialized occupations.

  • Cloud
    Shutterstock ID ID: 222190471 By wk1003mike

    IBM protests JEDI cloud deal

    As the deadline to submit bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year warfighter cloud deal draws near, IBM announced a legal protest.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.