Retaining Generation X and Generation Z federal employees: Three ways Congress can help
Federal employees are the engine of government, so preventing unwanted staff attrition should be a priority for agency leaders. But amid evolving workplace values associated with the Great Resignation, there is a renewed spotlight on best practices for retaining federal employees.
In response, the Partnership for Public Service, with support from ServiceNow, recently published, “Retaining My Generation: Retention Strategies for Generation X and Generation Z Federal Employees,” which highlights how to maintain an effective workforce by focusing on the generational values of federal employees. Specifically, we considered Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)—which is the future of federal senior leadership—and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012)—which represents the future of the federal workforce.
While agencies play a key role in retaining their employees, Congress has the unique ability to pass legislation and provide oversight to foster retention. Below are a few ideas for how Congress can help retain these two essential generations.
Support agency efforts that allow federal employees to maintain maximum workplace flexibility.
Both Gen X and Gen Z federal employees value a flexible work environment, albeit for distinct reasons. Generation X is often in the sandwich position of caring for children and aging parents, and values telework because it gives them the flexibility to balance their work and family responsibilities. For many Gen Z federal employees, hybrid or remote work is the norm because they entered the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic when fewer employers were working fully in person. As a result, many younger civil servants expect hybrid or remote work as an option and view it as a sign of trust.
Congress should provide effective oversight and pass legislation that allows for workplace flexibility in alignment with mission needs. Congress also could pass legislation that requires agencies to collect metrics on telework to better understand where and how often remote work is taking place across the government. Additionally, Congress should require training for employees moving into managerial or supervisory positions, especially for those managing remote or hybrid employees.
Enable and improve the effectiveness of talent exchanges to promote cross-sector collaboration and infuse government with new ideas.
Many Gen X civil servants currently at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels view joining the Senior Executive Service as the last step in their government career. However, there are a finite number of SES positions, so it is important to provide Gen X with other leadership roles and continual career growth. Cross-sector exchange programs like the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program—which enables civil servants to do short-term work assignments with nonprofits, state governments and universities—and public-private talent exchange programs can help.
Congress can help by making such exchanges more widely available. For example, Congress could amend the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to allow for-profit entities to participate. Regarding public-private exchanges, which require statutory authority, Congress should pass legislation to create a talent exchange policy open to agencies government-wide, allowing implementing agencies to focus on their critical needs through such exchanges.
Stop crisis budgeting and increase stability for federal employees by passing the budget on time to decrease the number of continuing resolutions and government shutdowns.
Both Gen X and Gen Z employees are impacted by government shutdowns. For Gen Zers, who may be still deciding if their federal job will become a federal career, shutdowns can shatter their confidence that government can provide stable employment.
Congress should stop crisis budgeting and create processes that foster forward-looking planning and sound management, including adopting biennial budget resolutions, more multi-year appropriations and the timely passage of appropriations bills. Research shows that government shutdowns not only impede important government functions and hurt the economy, but are also detrimental to employee morale.
For more information on retention factors and strategies for Generation X and Generation Z federal employees, read our full report.