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Three strategies to attract younger workers to careers in the public sector

January 30, 2024
  • By Michelle Hay, (She/Her) Global Chief People Officer, Sedgwick

Workplace populations are at a generational inflection point, as older employees retire, and young people look for satisfying careers. With an increasing number of federal government workers eligible for retirement, and just 8% of its workforce under the age of 30, federal government managers need to think carefully about how to attract young talent. One way to do that is to borrow culture strategies used in the private sector, which could include deploying technology to make work more meaningful, maximizing flexibility with hybrid work/home options or taking a proactive approach to supporting mental well-being. 

The needs and preferences of younger individuals are fundamentally different now than in years past. The workforce has transformed as priorities have shifted. Younger generations want their jobs to be more meaningful, and less of a means to an end. New priorities include healthy work/life balance, mental health support, social change and global impact. 

Use technology to make work more meaningful

Younger workers increasingly want their jobs to have meaning and autonomy. They have little interest in grinding through the workday just for the salary that comes twice a month. One way to make jobs more enjoyable is to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that remove drudgery from everyday work tasks. 

Consider the example of claims processors. Processors’ work – predicated on document validation and eligibility verification – tends to be repetitive. Private sector companies like Sedgwick have gone all-in on automating segments of the claims process. For instance, AI technology can scan and summarize hundreds of documents in an instant and can verify that the person submitting a claim is eligible for the benefits they are requesting. With the help of AI, claims processors can focus their time on more interesting cases, that are too complex to be solved by artificial intelligence, and on engaging with the human behind the claim. Less time spent on tedious tasks means more time to engage with claimants. 

Sedgwick’s Leah Cooper and Mark Dobson note that “by allowing automation technology to do some of the heavy lifting, especially on low value and low severity claims, we’re able to remove mundane, repetitive tasks from our colleagues’ workloads and enrich their jobs with opportunities to work on more engaging and challenging things.” Countless government workers process claims for the Social Security Administration, the VA, the Department of Labor, and many more. Automation technology can make this work more enjoyable for those seeking challenges while also giving them the opportunity to make a human connection with those in need of help. Like claims processing, many other government jobs could be made more appealing through AI implementation. 

Consider flexibility with hybrid and remote work options

Many employers are seeing benefits from bringing people back into workplaces for connection and communication. President Biden, for instance, has recently urged federal workers to return to the office. Still, since the pandemic, public opinion about protecting access to remote work has shifted significantly. More than ever, employees value the autonomy and additional time with their families that remote work gives them. Private sector companies are responding, with more Americans working from home than ever before. 

While many jobs have a necessary in-person component, hybrid models can show the commitment to flexibility that young workers are looking for. Flexible work models can be a mutual partnership between employer and employee, to the benefit of both. In many cases, flexibility has increased worker productivity. If an employee can work from home occasionally – with flexible WFH days at their discretion – they don’t have to take time off suddenly when their child is home sick in bed, or when their home is undergoing repairs. 

For jobs that don’t need to be in person at all, eliminating geographic requirements for job postings can significantly broaden the talent pool. This flexibility then enables employers to reduce expenses related to office space, overhead, employee turnover and relocation. 

As in the private sector, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for public sector in-person requirements. Different jobs require different things. Nimble companies recognize this and provide flexibility when possible. The federal government should do the same. 

Take proactive approaches to mental well-being

Young workers are conversant in the language of mental health, and they want to work for institutions that actively support them. One way for government agencies to do that is to prioritize work/life balance. Doing so reduces stress, and thus the probability of work-related mental health problems, keeping workers happy over the long term. 

The advantages of maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life are many. These include increased productivity, greater dedication and motivation at the workplace, reduced absenteeism, and improvements in both physical and mental well-being for employees. Conversely, an imbalance can lead to lower satisfaction, higher stress, decreased productivity, and sometimes even problematic behavior. Managers can put policies in place to ensure that employers are getting the balance they need to thrive at work and at home. 

Government agencies can appeal to young workers in a myriad of ways. With an aging workforce, it’s time for the federal government to be more proactive about bringing in the next generation of civil servants.