The Federal Workforce & The Federal Brand (A Comment)

Many argue that the presenting problem is a talent gap, i.e. the Boomers are going to retire, soon. There won't be Millennials waiting to replace them, because they've lost patience with the system. Presumably the civil service will fall apart absent a solid talent pipeline to back up the Gen Xers who will need to take over when the Boomers retire.

I disagree, even though parts of the problem are presented in a way that I agree with (e.g. the part about Millennials not having patience for the system.) 

--For one thing, Boomers frequently want or need to work beyond retirement age, sometimes well beyond. So I am not convinced they're leaving as quickly as people may think.

--For another, some aspects of the system work well for Millennials, who are highly team-oriented, and prefer clear-cut criteria and expectations - defining characteristics of the civil service. 

The real issue, I think, is that a variety of external forces are combining to change the nature of work rapidly and permanently. These changes cut across all generations. And the federal civil service has trouble understanding or keeping up with them.

An article in Fast Company sums them up well. Briefly:

1. Work is more remote than on-site.
2. Employees are expected to be on-call 24/7.
3. Work is expected to be "a calling" not just what you do from 9 to 5.
4. Work/life boundaries are increasingly nonexistent as friendship is being replaced by "networking."
5. Work is increasingly project-to-project (i.e. temporary) rather than long-term or even permanent.

("These Are The New Rules Of Work," URL:; May 18, 2015; Ross Perlin)

Related trends:

1. Nomadic living - you set up shop in a remote area and telecommute
2. Communal working/workspaces - you find other freelancers and co-rent space with them
3. Full-time job + side work - you have a hobby or two that you do for money, while keeping a steady income flowing (yes, this is supposed to be your passion, ideally...I suppose)

In the federal civil service, a related major issue is the relationship between contractors and federal employees - because work culture is not manual - in order for it to be productive there has to be seamless collaboration - one team, one culture, one mission.

Given all of this, in my mind, the real question is how we define civil service as distinct from non-civil service. If it is fair to say that a key distinction is the desire for an "inherently governmental cadre of dedicated employees" then a more robust model might be a federal-wide approach, where we recruit people into the civil service in an agency-agnostic way, and then deploy them across agencies in a manner that builds a core set of skills as appropriate.

Looked at in this way, you hire for dedication and you train for skills, and you start people right out of high school. Because you want a permanent workforce with institutional knowledge that is specific to government, not a disposable one that can pretty much work anywhere.

Which would make Pathways incredibly important.

As well as employee assistance program type programming.

...a lot of other implications. 

But it goes well beyond retaining Millennials.

Once you define the structural problem and then the desired solution you're ready to start defining that solution in terms of brand.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

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