Canada's Public Service: A Career for the Net Generation?
The front page headline on yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen featured a story about a recent survey that links the level of engagement that Canadian federal public servants are reporting, based on the amount of time they have been employed.
What is interesting about this particular survey is that the group being evaluated is made up entirely of young people who were recruited via the Post-Secondary Recruitment program. Essentially, these are young people who were recruited right out of university programs to begin their professional careers in the Public Service.
The gist of the story is this: young people are invigorated and motivated when they join the Public Service, but the job beats the enthusiasm out of them. The longer they work for the federal government, the lower their reported scores on some key engagement indicators.
This result led to some water cooler chat in our office – with a recommendation that we address the topic here in our blog, particularly in light of our current look at workplace wellness. As I thought about this, I started to think about the perspective of the university student who is beginning to consider their first job. My conclusion? I realized that I am about as far removed from that group as it is possible to be.
So who do we have that could most effectively provide an analysis of this group and their outlook on work and life? Well, we have Max Sunohara, a current student at the University of Ottawa, working in our office this summer. Why not have Max provide the Net Generation reaction to the Citizen piece?
After discussing the issue with some Delta staff, I read the article online - the only place I go to read the news.
I can honestly say I was not very surprised with what I read. Before reading the piece, I hadn’t put much thought into why I would want to work in the public sector after finishing my post secondary schooling, and after careful thought I couldn’t come up with all that much. The truth is I never gave working in the public service too much consideration. I always envisioned myself working in the private sector. I wondered why that was, and so I started brainstorming and came up with some ideas.
This post will be aimed at outlining the various qualities that someone of my generation would be looking for in a job in the public sector.
As a member of the Net Generation I was born into a world of fast evolving technology, where the fastest and smallest gadget is rendered obsolete in a matter of months. My generation grew up with computers, laptops, cell phones, the Internet, and can’t imagine a world without them.
As mentioned, I went online to read the article for which this post is a response. I am sure if you offered an iPad with the Ottawa Citizen on it or the actual Ottawa Citizen to someone of the Net Generation they would choose the digital version.
There is a very simple reason. Paper is static; as soon as it is printed it is outdated. Digital on the other hand is dynamic. You won’t see breaking news that was on TV in the paper, but you will see it online. Due to this, it is crucial that employers use the web to interact with potential future employees. With that in mind, if an employer does not have a website they essentially do not exist to our generation, and if they do not have a strong web presence then they will more than likely go unnoticed.
Dynamic websites are really a must; the days of online brochures are over. Take our government’s website for example. It is plain, boring and not very interactive or dynamic. If compared to the government of France’s website, which is very good, one can really see what our government’s website lacks.
In order to achieve maximum engagement in the workplace, I believe that “Net Genners” require the open and freely connected use of electronics that they are used to. I believe that most people of the Net Generation would prefer to use their tower PC or laptop to a “work computer”. Asking a “Net Genner” to use a different computer, and different software, than what they are accustomed to would be like asking a star hockey player to start using different equipment. In both cases productivity would likely decrease and I would assume engagement would follow in the same pattern. This could perhaps be why the survey found that disengagement increased after working in the public sector for a while.
The conditions in which everyone works are probably one of the most important aspects of a job.
If I were coming out of a post-secondary program into a first job, I would want to work in a healthy environment that would help me learn and grow in my field. I would completely understand that I am very young and still have much to learn from my superiors, but at the same time I would still like to be treated with the same respect that I give to my co-workers and not be treated as if I were useless and just “the new kid”. I am sure most people of my generation are very open to adapting to the work style of older generations, but like most things in life this is a two-way street. If I were to adapt to the work styles of my superiors, then perhaps it would be mutually beneficial if they could also learn to adapt to the work habits of the younger generations. I am sure this would help to increase engagement if all the generations’ work habits could find equilibrium with each other.
With reference to mutual respect, I would like to mention an article I read on cbc.ca about a woman who worked for HRSDC and was harassed on many occasions by her superior. Eventually she had to take a sick leave in order to remove herself from the situation when it was not dealt with properly by her department. The harassment included sexual harassment as well as yelling and threatening.
Behaviour like that should never be tolerated, and if such conduct was allowed while the new hires were working, I believe that it would have been a contributing factor to the disengagement trend found in the survey. For all generations, being treated equally and with respect is very important, but this is especially important for my generation. The the equal treatment of all races, genders, LGBT, etc, is a must for a healthy working environment and maximum engagement.
Why would someone of my generation want to work in an environment where unnecessary stress is created due to inappropriate behaviour and intolerance?
In order for someone to want to work in the public sector, the organization must be easily accessible. How could someone apply to work in an organization if they cannot find it? For my generation this would mean online.
I for one have never heard of the Post-Secondary Recruitment Program, nor have I heard it discussed among my peers. Again, having a website that engages the viewer is a must. A website isn’t just an online brochure, but instead an evolving community meeting place that incorporates social media to involve the public as much as possible. The website should try to “sell” why the new graduates should work in the public sector on the website. The graduates should believe that by working in the public sector they will be making a difference and have interesting and meaningful responsibilities. This was a problem found in the survey, and it could very well be that the new hires did not know what exactly their new job would encompass when they were selected.
First Job Syndrome?
All this being said, the article does not take into consideration that for the new hires, this was their first job. Perhaps the trend in disengagement is quite normal in all sectors. It is definitely possible that the new hires had high expectation walking into their new jobs, and were given a “reality check” when they entered the work force right after their post-secondary education.
I believe that some may have realized that the field was not right for them and that they would like to pursue other careers - thus were not happy with their current job.
Nevertheless, working in the service of the public is a great career choice and should be one of the top choices for younger generations. However, there are pros and cons as with any job that may make the public sector seem less appealing than the private sector.
This can all change if the new and older generations can adapt to each other.
Download Delta’s eBook: Leadership and the Intergenerational Divide by Delta Partners associate, Jim Taggart, in which he outlines the coming changes within the demographics of a soon-to-be four generation workforce. Jim discusses the implications, the trends, and potential solutions for the leaders and managers who will be faced with this new and unique challenge.