08 September, 2023
Over the last decade, the public sector has grappled with an aging workforce and creating an employer value proposition to create a strong and sustainable candidate pipeline.
While many experts advise public sector employers to invest in upskilling older workers, others still worry about their inability to attract young talent into public service.
Gen Z isn’t just looking for a paycheck. They’re in search of meaning.
Gen Z, which includes individuals born between 1997 and 2012, is entering the workforce with a set of values, expectations, and aspirations that are different than those of their predecessors. Their upbringing has been deeply intertwined with significant global and economic events, technological advances, and cultural shifts that have shaped their perspectives as to what defines an employer of choice and a rewarding career.
Many of the unique values held by this young generation are tied to purpose and meaning, and their intrinsic need to find work that advances the causes they believe in. Extensive studies have found that Gen Z-ers are drawn to mission-driven work and organizations that live up to the values portrayed through marketing and branding.
As Gen Z makes it clear that they are not willing to buy into hustle culture or sell out for a high paycheck alone, public sector employers are offered a unique opportunity to attract and develop this young talent by simply leveraging the public sector’s employer value proposition (EVP).
Leveraging a Strong EVP to Attract Gen Z
Public sector CHROs and HR teams have a unique advantage over private sector employers when it comes to attracting Gen Z talent. There is an organic alignment between what Gen Z-ers are seeking from work and what employment in the public sector can deliver.
Here are some ways that public sector employers can leverage their EVP to attract and retain young workers throughout the employee lifecycle.
#1 – Highlight Mission-Driven Work
Gen Z grew up in an era of profound change, ranging from social justice movements to economic uncertainty, to environmental action. They have also grown up as digital natives, with access to technology and platforms that provide greater visibility into the issues facing not just their immediate communities, but the world at large.
Research has documented Gen Z’s desire to not only work for an organization that is mission-driven, but to perform work that allows them to individually contribute to that greater purpose.
The public sector, by its very nature, is positioned to offer roles that directly influence communities, policy, and society. Public sector employers have a unique opportunity to appeal to this purpose-driven generation, highlighting the impact they can make in their immediate communities or world-wide through public service.
#2 – Showcase Your Commitment to DEIB Programs & Initiatives
Gen Z represents the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history, much of which is attributed to a growing percentage of America’s young people being born into immigrant families. They are also the most diverse generation as it relates to identifying as LGBTQIA+, and are cited as the most formally educated population of Americans.
Gen Z-ers have grown to expect their workplaces to reflect America’s growing diversity and to provide workplace cultures that support inclusion and belonging efforts.
Public sector organizations are often ahead of the curve in ensuring diverse representation, with many public institutions prioritizing diversity training and other inclusivity programs. As the private sector quietly cuts back on promises made to foster diverse, inclusive workplaces, public sector employers that highlight their continued commitment to DEIB will have a leg up in attracting younger talent.
#3 – Emphasize a Commitment to Total Employee Health & Well-being
Gen Z has had a front row seat as the generations before them have burned out due to poor work-life balance and a failure to manage physical, mental, and financial health.
Beyond traditional benefits, Gen Z places immense importance on holistic well-being, has broken free from stigmas about seeking mental health support, and seeks roles that offer flexibility and autonomy.
The public sector has traditionally offered not only a rich benefits program, but also a workplace culture that better supports work-life balance than its private sector counterparts through more predictable work schedules.
And for a population that may stay on their parents’ medical plan until they age out at 26, supplementing a medical benefits program with highly desired voluntary and lifestyle benefits is critical to demonstrating a commitment to total employee well-being. Gen Z recognizes the many different components that contribute to overall well-being, and they expect their employer to support them in both work and in life.
The public sector’s ability to deliver benefits, programs, and resources that support an employee’s well-being – both in and outside of work – is critical to attracting Gen Z talent. The public sector’s ability to communicate the value of these programs on a year-round basis is also critical to success.
#4 – Leverage the Power of Your Benefits Program by Providing Personalized Benefits Experiences
While Gen Z values an employer with a commitment to their total health and wellness, a benefits program is only as strong as employees perceive it to be.
A rich benefits program is one of the public sector’s strongest attraction and retention tools, but it can be made even stronger when accompanied by technology that provides employees with individualized benefit experiences that help them choose and use the best benefits available for their unique situations.
Gen Z is a generation of digital nomads that have grown up in the age of technology and are high adopters of artificial intelligence to guide their decision-making. They also have an expectation that technology will serve them as the individuals they are and not as simply part of the masses. Public sector benefit teams can help Gen Z talent better recognize the value their rich benefit programs offer by providing these tools, improving their ability to attract and retain Gen Z-ers using a strong EVP already in place.
#5 – Position Job Stability as a Competitive Advantage
While often overlooked by Millennials in favor of startup culture, the attractiveness of job stability is making a comeback.
Throughout their lives, Gen Z has seen rampant economic uncertainty, including watching parents experience joblessness during the Great Recession. They also have experienced exceptionally high rates of childhood poverty, with a peak of 23% in 2011 and 2012, and falling to 17% in 2021. Even for those from households above the poverty line, Gen Z-ers are much more likely to come from low-income households than prior generations.
As adults, Gen Z-ers hold high levels of student loan debt and are facing rising housing costs and inflation. Seventy-five percent of Gen Z-ers report that they can’t pay their bills on time, and have increased their levels of non-mortgage debt more than any generation in recent years.
While Millennials made a name for themselves as job hoppers, the Gen Z population will likely value workplace stability and job security. The average tenure for a public sector employee is 6.7 years, which is significantly higher than 3.8 years in the private sector.
Gen Z, having witnessed economic downturns and the uncertainties of gig economy jobs, values the stability offered by the public sector. Gen Z-ers are positioned to see the promise of consistent benefits, job security, and structured progression. Public sector employers that empower candidates to recognize job stability does not stifle career growth and is a strong EVP will do well in attracting Gen Z workers.
#6 – Place Value on Professional Development, Continuous Learning & Opportunities for Advancement
While job security is a key EVP to attract Gen Z talent, it is important to demonstrate that this stability does not come at the expense of opportunities for growth.
According to recent research, Gen Z employees view career advancement and professional development opportunities as clear indicators of a healthy workplace culture, and are one of the highest offerings young talent values when considering a role.
Contrary to the belief that the public sector lags in professional development, many government bodies invest heavily in training their workforce. The public sector often offers opportunities for further studies, workshops, and certifications, ensuring employees stay updated, relevant, and positioned for growth.
While the public sector might not offer the rapid vertical growth seen in startups, its vastness provides diverse opportunities that Gen Z highly values. Public sector employers need to showcase transparent growth pathways that clearly outline career progression paths and the skills required for advancement.
Gen Z is also a group that values horizontal growth opportunities as they diversify their skillset, and the public sector offers a variety of role types young workers can explore. They also expect clarity into objectives and the immediate impact of their work. The structured nature of public sector projects can provide this clarity, and create clear timelines for when and how horizontal advancement could work to Gen Z’s advantage.
The public sector is also well positioned to offer mentorship programs, creating an opportunity to not only engage and develop younger workers, but their more tenured counterparts as well.
Gen Z talent expects their employer to invest in their growth and development, with clear career pathing and opportunities for growth. By leveraging the talent of older generations and showing clear paths for advancement, the public sector can attract new and diverse talent that may have otherwise overlooked the value of their EVP.
The public sector has a unique opportunity to leverage EVPs already in place to attract younger talent and improve the employee experience for all members of its workforce.
With its mission-focused roles and growth opportunities, traditionally rich benefit programs, and ability to provide strong workplace cultures that support total well-being, the public sector is strongly aligned with the values of our youngest generation of workers.
Learn more about how Empyrean can help your public sector organization build a better culture through benefits.